Archive number: 2402
Date interviewed: 18 August, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay Warren, we’re just talking off camera before about a kind of life summary.
So maybe we’ll start with where and when you were born and we’ll work our way through from there.
Okay, I was born in Adelaide in South Australia in 1962. I grew up in Westbourne Park, my father was a builder and my mother was predominantly a housewife but she did have a few other little odd jobs around the place. I did
my schooling in Adelaide and in January of ‘78 I joined the air force, as an apprentice. From there I went to Wagga [Wagga Wagga] and did my apprenticeship training as an instrument fitter and yeah, from then on, basically my life has been in the air force moving around from everywhere, and that’s basically life summary to a, to getting into the air force.
And within the air force, tell us about moving through the different roles you played there and eventually the deployments?
Okay, I was, as I said, I was an instrument fitter; I did my apprenticeship for two and a half years at Wagga. From there I was posted to Amberley up in Brisbane where I worked on F111s as an instrument fitter. I progressed through the ranks and made it to the rank of corporal, had a couple of deployments overseas with F111s
and got selected to go to the F-18 project where I went over to America for a six month period to pick up the automatic test equipment for the F-18. From there I came back and whilst I’d been an instrument fitter for about five or six years, I was studying to get my qualifications up so that I could apply for pilot’s course. So after I came back from America I applied for pilot’s course and got selected and that was
about 19-yeah, 19-something, I’ll have to look in my log book to see when I got accepted, I think it was 1982. Accepted onto pilot’s course, did my pilot’s course, graduated thankfully after a year and a half and flew VIP [Very Important Persons] transport for another three years then at Canberra where I got to tour
around all the countryside with lots of important people in the back, which was good fun. And then I got posted to Caribous where I flew in Townsville for another two years and then got selected for instructor’s course. So I went down became a flying instructor, I taught at the school over in Perth for about eighteen months before coming back to Caribous in Amberley where I was an on-line
flying instructor there teaching people how to convert onto the Caribou. From there I was posted back up to Townsville where I was the, again, a flying instructor here for a while where I focus predominantly on training in New Guinea. I was then promoted and became eventually XO [Executive Officer] of 35 Squadron and then as 35 Squadron... 35 Squadron
then became absorbed by 38 Squadron, so it amalgamated, we became a detachment of 38 Squadron up here in Townsville and I became the specialist aircrew officer up here in Townsville. During that time was where most of the deployments occurred , was during the time as XO of 35 Squadron. We were involved in some drought relief operations in New Guinea and then
that flowed on to drought relief operations in Irian Jaya and then of course East Timor came up and we were involved in the first deployments into East Timor, and we were involved there for the better part of two years I guess, over all. Yeah, that’s about deployments in a nutshell. After coming back I did two
short tours in East Timor, about two months for the first tour and another two months for the second tour. And we tried to limit it to that because the conditions for aircrew over there just weren’t conducive to good rest and good operational focus, so we tried to keep in short, get the guys in, do the job, get ‘em back and retrain them into all the other roles that they couldn’t actually do over in East Timor. We couldn’t operate really at night
successfully, over there, we couldn’t operate in instrument flying conditions over there because there was no instrument aids to operate with so the guys quickly lost a lot of their skills, so we had to bring them back fairly regularly so we tried to keep our deployments to a couple of months and then get them back. But all that New Guinea training put us in good stead for East Timor, it was, whilst the
terrain and the airfields were nowhere near as difficult as what they are in New Guinea, because we had trained in New Guinea the guys were well prepared to operate in East Timor. So that was, it was a good deployment for them, put the skills that they’d learned in practise. And I had been the pleasure of being the first detachment commander to be over there to take the Caribous in, which was good fun.
And then you finished up with the air force, is that
Yeah I did twenty-four years in the air force and I had a great time but I’d had enough. I had an opportunity here, my wife was working at a nursery at the time and it came up for sale. My time in Townsville was drawing to a close, I was ready for posting and I didn’t want to leave Townsville. So we decided between my wife and myself that we’d give small business
a go, so we bought the nursery, and we’ve been operating it and running it for the last three years and we’re just in the process of an expansion so its all going reasonably well.
Excellent, alright, well that’s a life summary. Now we can go into detail so I’ll take you right back to growing up in Adelaide. Just tell us about your family?
As I said, my father was a builder; I was the fifth of,
of the family of three brothers and a sister, I was the youngest. My father was a World War II veteran, he’d served in the middle east and in New Guinea and yeah, he basically didn’t talk much about his experience during the war so I didn’t
really know much about what he did or what he achieved when he was in. But I guess you know, it was a fairly influential thing in my life that he’d operated in being in the army.
What section was he in?
He was an engineer, so he’s in, predominantly in demolitions, so he used to go around blowing things up,
yeah and that was him. And as I said he came back and was a builder, he ran his own building business, a small business, and my brother was part of that as well.
You said he didn’t talk about his World War II, but were there any things you noticed like, I don't know, like old memories or bad memories coming up for him?
Yeah, he was a pretty reserved man my father, he doesn’t talk much at the best of times and he certainly doesn’t
talk about his war experiences. All his brothers as well were in the war, my uncle was a POW [Prisoner of War] in Changi. I did, I got a little bit of stories about that, but not a great lot, but yeah, my dad didn’t talk too much at all about it. He talked a little bit about Darwin, you know when, he was in Darwin when it was bombed and... but other than that
he didn’t say much at all.
What about Anzac Day, would he...?
Yeah he always marched at Anzac Day. And he still had his jacket and his medals and stuff which, you know, he used to drag out on occasion and have a look at and try and get some stories out of him but he wouldn’t talk about it. Yeah, so that was him.
Well would he talk about the Anzac tradition or something along those lines, maybe not his specific stories but about the military in general?
Not really, I
think his, I think probably the Anzac tradition is one of those things that did rub off I guess, predominantly in the way he used to treat his mates, his people. He would always, if there was somebody in need he would always help wherever he could, so I guess that probably had an influence on my life, always wanting to be there to help
people out. So whether that was something that was instilled in him through the army or whether it was just his personal traits I don't know, but I suspect there was some of it in there through mateship.
Yeah so... and your schooling, what was your schooling like?
Yeah I did, I went, only went to year eleven in high school. I guess I was looking for something else at the time.
Okay, we were just talking about your schooling.
Yeah, year eleven I went to in Adelaide and I probably wasn’t a model student, I think I was looking for something else to do, I was sort of bored with school, I’d had enough of it. But my parents wouldn’t let me leave school until I had a job to go to, so I started looking around for a job. And at the time in
South Australia there was lots of people who were doing year twelve and still not getting jobs. So I thought, ‘I’ll get out while the getting’s good and see if I can find a job.’ And I just happened to be walking past the recruiting office one day and saw they were recruiting and I thought, ‘I’ll give that a go.’ I actually went in to apply for the army, but army applications were already closed for apprenticeships, so I applied for the navy and the air force. I actually wanted to join the navy,
when I couldn’t get in to the army, I thought, ‘Well the navy would be the next best thing.’ As it turned out the air force sent me a letter saying I’d been accepted for apprenticeship training and that I had to reply to them within a couple of weeks of getting the letter. So I thought about it and I thought, ‘Will I hold out and see whether the navy gives me an option?’ As it turns out they did but it was after the cut off date and I’d already accepted for the air force. And I said, “Well I’ve already accepted
for the air force so I’ll go with the air force,” and in the end I was glad I did, I really did enjoy my time in the air force. So that then left me with only a year eleven education, I joined and went to Wagga and as soon as I got there, whilst I loved doing my trade I thought, ‘There’s more to the air force than being a tradesman.’ And an F111 did a fly over there one
day at low level at high speed and I thought, ‘That’s what I wanna do, I wanna fly aeroplanes,’ and from that day I started working towards it to become a pilot, which took me a few years but I got there eventually.
I might, yeah, before we move on too quickly, I might move back and talk a bit more about your teenage hood and all that.
And this is 1970s isn’t it?
What were you into, like, were you into the long hair and the music of the time?
Oh I suppose I was a bit of a rat bag, I was a typical teenager I suppose, I had reasonably long hair and, you know, we used to play up, go out to the pubs and the night clubs when we were sort of fifteen and sixteen years old and try and get our way in and see if we could,
if we could get a drink, which we often used to be able to. I guess things haven’t changed too much over the years. Yeah into the loud music, Cold Chisel and all that sort of stuff. And of course in South Australia as soon as you turned sixteen you could get a driver’s license so I had a driver’s license when I was sixteen and we were able to drive around and run amok. I was into sports as well, I played Aussie
Rules football, I played a lot of that. I was into fencing as well, I was on the state fencing team, as a junior.
Did you see a future in fencing like to the Olympics or anything like that at that stage?
One of my friends went to the Olympics, he went not long after I joined the air force and I was working towards that. I, but when I joined the air force,
fencing being such a, I guess its a very small sport. In Wagga there was no real sort of competitive fencing to be done so I sort of fell out of it. I tried to pick it up again in Brisbane but there just wasn’t the competition there so I’ve sort of given it away altogether. Aussie Rules I focused a lot on, I played a lot of Aussie Rules. Probably could’ve made a…,
probably could’ve made a go of it in South Australia if I had of stayed there, but yeah, moving around in the air force I always played sort of, in the top teams and in the representative teams but you never sorta can make anything more out of it than a bit of sport and a bit of fun.
So was it sad to give up these kind of things when you joined the air force?
No, not really because you joined, although you had to give up certain things, I gave up all
my friends and my family and all that sort of thing but you, I made a lot of new friends in the air force and there was a lot of new opportunities to be had as well and there was lots of good things, good things to do. And as an apprentice, you know, I was sixteen, a lot of the guys that joined were just fifteen or sixteen, and we had a good time. You know, you put three hundred sixteen year old kids together in close proximity and there’s gonna be
lots of fun to be had, so we did, you know. Unfortunately the air force doesn’t take apprentices any more, I think its a tradition that they’ve lost and I think it was something that was just a good thing for kids to do.
And you mentioned it briefly before but why did you wanna finish up school at that stage when you were sixteen?
Cause I just didn’t see a future in Adelaide. I didn’t see any point of doing year twelve in Adelaide to go
out and do a job that you could do with a year ten education. I thought at the time, ‘If I can find a job, I’m better off finding one now and getting out in to the work force.’ And as I said, I was probably bored with school, I was, as I said, probably not a model student. I was bright enough, I could do the work without really trying too hard but when I actually got away from the school environment and got in the air force
my academic achievements went way up because I liked what I was doing, I enjoyed it, you know, I wasn’t enjoying school at the time. So that was one of my, that was my main reason of getting out, I’d just had enough of being at school, I wanted to get away from it.
And so unemployment was quite high for young people back then?
Back then it was, yeah, there was some guys going doing their year twelve, not getting accepted to university and, you know, just doing menial jobs or becoming, you know, bank tellers or whatever.
And there was a lot of guys who were finishing school and going on the dole, trying to find a job and that didn’t appeal to me very much.
And before you saw this recruiting office and the possibility of apprenticeship, had you thought of a future in the services?
No, not at all, not at all. It was just one of those things, it was just a spur of the moment type thing. I’d walked past the recruiting office and thought, ‘Mmm, that might be a good place for me to get a trade.’
I had applied for a job with the weapons research establishment in Adelaide, they were looking for electrical apprentices so I applied and they gave me an interview. And there was, I forget how many people they’d put on their short list but it was, you know, there was a couple of hundred that they were doing interviews with. And I walked in and they said, “Oh well you’ve,” you know, “Its only a
year ten education requirement for an apprenticeship but we’ve just got so many applications that we’re really only looking at people who’ve got year twelve to get a job. We’ll give you an interview anyway.” So I had the interview and that was good because it gave me some experience at interviews but yeah, I had no hope, no hope of getting a job there and I thought, ‘Gee, if that’s how competitive its gonna be to get a job I better start applying
to more places to try and get one and it was lucky I got accepted for the air force. So that was my motivation, was to get a job and get somewhere other than being at school.
How’d your mum and dad feel about this apprenticeship?
No they were good. They’d always said, “You’re not, you can’t leave school until you have a job,” so once I had a job they were quite happy about it, you know. I was the last one in the family to leave home, I was
I was five years younger than my next brother up, so they’d all left, they’d left home and had jobs and families and whatever. So when I left it basically cleared the way for Mum and Dad to pack up home, get in a caravan and tick off around the country. So they basically left not long after I joined the air force and they started touring and then settled over in, oh a little, little
seaside retirement village basically, over the other side of South Australia. But you know, they were good, they were good about it.
Okay well so tell us about, you’ve applied... what, did you have to wait to receive news or...?
Yeah, there’s about, gee, you’re asking a long way back, I think I applied in about June or July and got told in September I think, that I’d been accepted for the January intake.
So even after then, after I’d been accepted, they’d said in September, you know, you’re in the January intake, even then my parents wouldn’t let me leave school, they made me finish out year eleven. And I sat the exams for that which I passed but, but I wasn’t all that serious about it then, but I managed to pass all the exams for year eleven.
And then they packed me off and sent me off to the air force which I knew absolutely nothing about when I got there, I knew nothing about the air force.
What kind of expectations did you have before you arrived?
I don't know, I really didn’t know what to expect. They bundled us off on a plane, I think we flew on a civilian aircraft, TAA [Trans Australia Airways] or someone like that down to Melbourne and then
they, they put us on a Hercules to fly us to Wagga, and as I said, I had no idea what to expect. And I got off the plane and some angry little man started yelling at us to stand in lines and then stand up straight, and we’re all going, ‘What’s going on here, what have we got ourselves in for?’ But it soon turned out that we just learned how to do things and as I said, I became a model apprentice, I,
I was awarded the Governor General’s medal as the top apprentice for the year. And within the apprenticeship scheme they have their own little rank structure which is completely outside the normal rank structure of the air force but I progressed through the ranks there, I became a flight sergeant apprentice which put me sort of in charge of a few of the other apprentices, which was,
which was good.
Well tell us about that first say, few days settling in, what was it like when you first arrived, what kind of memories do you have of that?
I vividly remember getting yelled at a lot, to sort of straighten up. We were all bundled off, you’re, all typical military it was alphabetical so, ‘A to B you’re on level one,
B to C you’re on there.’ And all the S’s, we had our room, there was four of us in the room. Just trying to think of the other guys’ names... Sher, Shuck, Schmitt and somebody else, all in that same room. And of course being the new intake of apprenticeships, of apprentices the, all the second year and third year apprentices,
it was their duty to come over and cause as much heartache to you as possible by tipping you out of bed in the middle of the night and spraying you with fire hoses and all the good fun things that used to happen in the air force which they’ve cut out over the years. But that, it was good, it was all done in good fun, nobody got hurt and you always knew that next year it’d be our turn to get the new intake then make them do stupid things.
But they’d, you know, their senior intakes would tip you out of bed and mess up your room and whatever but then you know, half an hour later they’d come over and invite you over for a beer or whatever. So it was good, the mateship was good but there was lots of practical jokes and pranks and that was, that was something that was, I think its something that’s missing now, it doesn’t go on any more, its considered not politically correct any more.
So it was a good thing?
I think it was a good thing, I think it was good, it bought out a lot of camaraderie in people, you thought, you know, ‘It’ll be out turn next.’ And, you know, whilst that guy tipped me out of bed and made my life hard for me, you know, he’s now, he’s still a mate, he’s... those sorts of practical jokes just always went on. It was just a constant thing and then, you know,
all the apprentices would then play practical jokes on everybody else around the place, you know, there was adult trainees on the base as well, we’d go and, you know, do stuff with them as well. And the service police were always, they were always somebody who you’d try and stir up as much as you could, but without getting caught.
Do you remember anything you did specifically?
Nah, not really. I know we hid a service police car one day, they hid it in one of the old aeroplanes that was there. That was the intake, that wasn’t me personally, but those sorts of things were done. You know, always, apprentices were always, they used to call it rumbling, rumbling other apprentices. You know, if you
open the fire hose up on somebody’s bed or you’d tie ‘em to a fire hydrant and then turn the fire hydrant on. Or fill their overalls up with washing powder and then tie ‘em to the fire hydrant and watch ‘em all bubble over, that was always a regular. So there was all of those things and they went on, they just went on constantly, and no, as I said, nobody got hurt and nobody really worried too much about it. I think they used to call it character building.
Was there anyone that you remember not coping with it?
There was people who were never gonna cope with air force life in general and probably the early days, the early rumbles that that occurred, probably tipped a few guys out. You know, they had, I think we had a small period where, maybe two or three weeks or something where if you didn’t like it,
if you didn’t like their lifestyle, then you could just say, “Hey, I wanna go home,” and off you’d go. And there was a few guys that pulled out in those early days but there wasn’t many, we didn’t lose many guys. And I don't think anybody really got tipped over the edge by it. And every, I mean everybody was, whilst there was a lot of that sort of fun things going on, everybody was pretty sensible about it. If somebody was starting to take great offence to it then you backed off and left ‘em alone. So as I said, nobody,
it wasn’t anything too serious.
And apart from this, just how were you coping with the general life, living away from your parents for the first time?
The air, as I said, the air force back then was set up to look after apprentices. It was well set up, you know, we had supervisors that lived in the blocks with us, you had meal times were set, you had,
your days were set up so that you’d be at work at a certain time. You’d work, go to lunch, you’d come home, you’d do your study or whatever you had to do then the next morning you had inspections and you had everything else done, you had to go on parades and so your life was very regimented, so you didn’t have time to worry too much about missing home or whatever. And there was just always something going on, you’re always playing sport or you know,
there was the apprentice club you could go and you know, watch TV [Television] or play pool or do whatever you wanted to do. So there’s plenty of activities to keep people under the, you know, occupied. And there was always plenty of study to do as well, so that was all good. And there was always you know, the usual sorts of things, there was, you know, girls to chase at, sixteen or seventeen year olds, that you had to, that was the done thing,
chase girls and see if you could, again, go to clubs and have a beer and do whatever you could do.
Where were the girls from?
They, there was a whole base full of ‘em, they had the WAAAF-ery [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force], they used to call it, when the Women’s Royal [Auxiliary] Australian Air force was just being accepted into mainstream air force back then. They were a separate entity altogether but they came
across. But they were segregated back then, the women were in the women’s quarters and the men were in the men’s quarters and never the two should meet, unless you went there and managed to get in and managed to get in the door. It was always the women’s orderly officer always used to do the rounds of the women’s quarters and you’d always know cause there’d always be a hundred apprentices all jumping out of windows and running off everywhere.
Well how would
you meet them, were there functions or anything like that?
Yeah there’s always, I mean you’d always meet them, there was girls who were working in the same sort of areas as what you were training in and they ate in the same messes as you did. There was movie theatres and pictures and sporting functions and all that sort of stuff that they used to go to so you’d meet. You’d meet ‘em, you’d try and get a date, try and do all that sort of stuff, all the normal sorts of things that boys do.
What was the ratio like, were there more boys to girls?
Oh yeah, a hell of a lot more, hell of a lot more. I forget how many, there was very, very few trade type girls, I think the first girl to get accepted for a trade was oh, a couple of years after I finished my apprenticeship. So as they were very, very segregated, they didn’t... and I’d say the ratio would’ve
been something like, gee it would’ve been less than a tenth of people in the defence force at that stage would’ve been female.
So that makes it a bit tough doesn’t it, trying to, you know...?
Yeah, but I mean Wagga was a military town, there was the army on one side and the air force on the other and there was lots of girls in town as well, so there was plenty of opportunities to meet people. And as I said we had driver’s licenses when we were sixteen, and we were
allowed to go places, so it was nothing for us to get in a car and drive to Canberra on a Friday night to go to a night club, stay there and you know, sleep in the car and drive home the next day. So that, there was always opportunities to go out and meet people.
Still I just had an image in my head of the competition that must’ve gone on to meet the few girls?
There was a fair bit of competition, there was a fair bit of competition going on, but yeah,
there was, as I said, there was a few girls around, not a great lot.
Would you blokes talk about them, like, have chats about...?
You had to be a bit careful, there was always a lotta... as you said, there was a bit of competition and it was often competition for the same girl, so you had to be a bit careful about whether you were pinching somebody else’s girlfriend, which happened on occasion. I think there was a few blues over women
in the time I was at Wagga but we got over it.
Well tell us about the training, like you mentioned you got that award, but tell us what exactly you were learning in the fitting?
Initially all apprentices started out then and then they’d do six months just general fitting and turning. So we all did the usual
you know, we filed metal and we drilled holes in things and we made bits and pieces of stuff and we learned tech drawing and a few other bits and pieces of just general fitting and turning and machining. Also we did, you know, normal schooling type work so we did mathematics and we did English and a couple of other subjects that we, that we did while we were there. And then after that you, they graded
you on what you’d done during that time and you would then pick what trade you wanted to do. And when I first joined I thought I wanted to be an engine fitter, probably influenced by my brother who was a diesel mechanic. And when I started doing the trade training they,
the electrical trades, instrument fitting, electricians, they were sorta the more harder trades to do. And because I’d done well in the early stages they said, “You should be an instrument fitter or an electrician,” or whatever, one of those other trades, not a... “you’re not a...” used to have the black hand trades, the guys who got dirty playing with greasy things, and the,
we used to call them the queer trades, but its probably not politically correct any more either. You know, the guys that didn’t get dirty, the instrument fitters, the electricians, armament fitters, stuff like that. And so I decided I’d do, I’d become an instrument fitter and off we went and we did, after the six month basic fitting it was another two years of the
instrument fitter training and we went into everything. Then we, yeah, we stayed there for an extra six months longer, the instrument fitters and electricians did two and a half years at Wagga whereas the engine fitters and the air frame fitters and air motor transport fitters, they only did two years, so we were there for a bit longer.
And then you
received the award?
Yeah, that was, that sort of came out of the blue. It went predominantly on academics I think and yeah, that was awarded to me as the top apprentice for the year, for the intake. Which I’ve got laying around somewhere, its, but yeah that was the Governor General’s medal.
And was that at the end of your
Yeah that was right at the end, that got presented on the graduation parade, the passing out ceremony. And that was a good time as well, Mum and Dad came over, came over for the parade.
And was that go, with your good results, gonna help you with, eventually with a posting of preference?
I thought it would. I thought it would, they always kept saying, ‘Look if you do really well in your apprenticeship, you’ll get to go where you wanna go at the end of it.’ And I’d put down that I wanted to go back to South Australia, I guess, you know, predominantly to get back to my friends and family and for comfort I guess, cause I knew South Australia. And my posting came out and it wasn’t to South Australia, they’d sent me to F111s.
I guess because I’d done well and the F111 was the new toy at the time to sort of play with, and it was probably the most technically advanced aeroplane we had in the fleet at the time, so that’s where I went. And I predominantly, although I did a lot of instrument fitter type training where we learned about basic instruments, once I started working on the aeroplane,
most of my stuff was electronics not actual instruments. Most of my work was done on all the avionics, the avionics components of the aeroplane and also all the automatic test equipment that drove those and repaired and helped diagnose them. So yeah I did most of my stuff in there.
So they don’t post you to Adelaide, so you
get posted to what, Brisbane is it?
To Amberley, RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] Base Amberley, yeah.
How’d you feel about going here?
At the time I was a bit disappointed cause I really didn’t know anything about Amberley, but a couple of the guys off my intake got posted up there as well so I already knew people that were going, and I got up there and I fitted in pretty quickly and blended in to the place. It was, wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be, it was a lot warmer
than South Australia as well, so that was good, a lot warmer than Wagga. So it turned out alright, turned out good in the end.
Just had one quick question was, why was it called the queer trade?
Oh I don't know, I don't know where that came from. There was always the black handers [mechanics/armourers] and the queer trade [avionics], so I don't know why they used to call it the queer trade, I guess cause we didn’t get in and get our hands dirty and do all those blokey things, we were always fiddling around with little bits and pieces of stuff. Not as bad
as the red techs. They, the red techs had their own special school down at Laverton, they didn’t even sort of join mainstream apprenticeships, they were down there as a red tech. But yeah, I don't know why it was called the queer traders but that’s always been... and it still is I think, it still is in the air force, there’s the queer traders and the black handers.
And so its referring to them as being like, kind
of, a bit gay or something?
Yeah I think so, yeah, I think that’s probably where it stems from.
Bit of banter.
Yeah, just a bit of friendly rivalry between the different trades.
Alright, we’ve come to the end of the tape now...
Interviewee: Warren Schmitt Archive ID 2402 Tape 02
So tell me about leaving Wagga, were your parents were still away at that stage?
When I left Wagga? Yeah, they came, they came over for the graduation program then they continued on, on part of their touring around Australia then. So yeah, off from Wagga, loaded up the car and drove to Amberley I recall and yeah, arrived up there and moved onto the
base. Back then it was mandatory to live on base for at least six months when you first arrived at a place, unless you were married, so all single guys had to live on the barracks. And of course the only thing anybody ever wanted to do was move off base and go and live in a house, so we did that and it was a disaster and I ended up moving back on to the base.
Why was it a disaster?
Oh, you imagine three seventeen year old,
eighteen year old guys all living in a house together. None of us knew how to cook, none of us knew how to clean, none of us had any furniture. And basically all we wanted to do was go out, meet girls and drink beer and that’s basically what we did so of course the house just fell into complete disarray. And yeah, we only lasted in there about six months and I ended up moving back onto base.
Bit of a steep learning curve?
Yeah, it was a bit of a steep learning curve and it was probably not,
you know, it was teenagers out of control I guess. When I got caught for drink driving at the time that sort of took my license away for nine months, and that, yeah, all those sorts of things that normal teenagers do.
Did the RAAF, I mean obviously they would’ve had, you know, a lot of boys, a lot of young boys through the apprentice, did they offer any kind of guidance through, you know, living out of home for the first time or how to
deal with relationships, you know, anything like that?
No, not really, nah. Because they provided all that, they provided an environment for you to live on, on base and if you chose not to live on the base well that was your choice, and off you went, and then you did your best. But there wasn’t a lot of that sort of touchy-feely type things that we do today that we did back then, it was, ‘Off you go and fend for yourself.’ And we did, we didn’t do a very good job of it so we went back onto the base.
Did any three of you calling, you know, calling your mothers, ‘How do I do this, how do I do that?’
I don’t recall doing that, but like we didn’t cook a lot, we ate a lot of take-aways I recall, yeah and we certainly didn’t clean a lot. The house was just a disaster, we didn’t know how to mow the lawn, that took a long time to mow the lawn when we finally moved out. I think we lost our bond,
all that sort of stuff, we probably weren’t model tenants.
What did you do for furniture?
Just trying to think... we might’ve had furniture in the house, there might’ve been some furniture, I can’t remember. I know we, I bought a TV. Yeah it must’ve been furnished I think, the house must’ve been furnished, it was a long time ago.
What hours were you doing with the apprentice?
When I was at Wagga or when I was...?
When you were at Amberley?
It was normal base hours, I think it was half past seven in the morning ‘til about five o'clock at night, half past seven ‘til four, four thirty, something like that. Just normal working hours at the time.
So you had your evenings free?
Yeah, we did have our evenings free. Usually involved in yeah, again, chasing women and drinking beer. That was the usual, the usual things
Chasing civilian women or RAAF women?
Yeah, yeah, although I didn’t chase for very long, I, it was only sort of six months after I got to Amberley I guess, that I met my wife, my current, my wife that I’ve still got. We met and we were married within a year after meeting each other, I was twenty and Fiona was nineteen when we got married and we’ve been married ever since.
And coming up for twenty-three years, so that was a good thing.
Tell me about meeting Fiona?
Oh we had a party at the, we had a party at the house and we rang up the local hospital and rang the nurses quarters and said, ‘We’re having a party, anybody wants to come, come.’ And she turned up and I met her and that was, she turned up with a few of her friends and I met her and as I said we started dating and
got engaged and got married soon after.
So you were pretty friendly with the nurses there to be able to call up and tell them a party or...?
No it was, it was just a cold call that was... ‘Hello, we’re having a party, come over.’ You don’t believe that do you? Hasn’t that ever happened to you?
I can just imagine, being on shift as a nurse and you get a call, ‘Come over, we’re having a party.’
No we rang the quarters, we didn’t ring where they worked, we rang where they lived.
Oh that’s great, so she came along with some friends?
Did she kind of look around the house and go, ‘What’s going on here?’
Oh we cleaned up a bit. Yeah, okay, that was good.
Six months later you moved back to the barracks?
Yeah, moved back onto the barracks and my wife Fiona had moved, oh we were still dating at that stage, but she’d moved back out to where she came from, she came from
Roma which is sort of five hours drive from Ipswich. So she’d moved, she’d finished that part of her training and she’d moved back out and was at the hospital at Roma doing, continuing her training out there. And we kept in touch and I used to go out on the train or the bus out there on weekends and she’d come down to Amberley every now and again. So we kept in touch and as I said,
just, the long distance love affair became too much in the end to keep up with so we just said, “Look we’re gonna get married,” and we did. We married a bit over a year after we met.
Was that also something that, you know, with your postings and all that kind of thing you thought being married might make that easier or better or...?
Probably didn’t make it any easier, we moved a lot in the time we were married.
And I can’t say if it was any easier or any harder because I only had the one move as a single man, and that was from Wagga to Amberley and then after that we were married, so everywhere we went, we went as a couple. So it probably was, it was probably harder as a couple than it was as a single man.
But we coped and we moved, we moved a lot. We moved a lot, I forget exactly how many moves we had in the twenty-four years but it was something like twelve or thirteen, or more.
So what were the things that you were learning at Amberley?
Basically I’d finished my trade training, my basic trade training at Wagga and then its more, its all on the job hands on sort of training. And I was predominantly involved in
automatic test equipment and I quickly became one of the sort of people that knew how to fix the... the F111 avionics equipment was notoriously unreliable and the test stations that tested them were even more unreliable. So to be able to get in and fix the test station was one of the hardest things
but I was, I just had a knack for it, I just knew how to do it. So I quickly sort of got involved in that and knew what was doing, and that was my role, I was basically the automatic test equipment specialist I guess, if you like.
Warren, I was wondering if you could step me through some of the mechanics of the F111 as much as
you can. Like just remember this archive is, you know, some person who’s really into F111s in fifty years may wanna know some of the detail of the work that you’re doing. So I’m not gonna be able to ask you too many questions cause I’m not too familiar with the mechanics, but I was wondering if you could give me a bit of an insight into it all?
Well my specialty in the trade that I was in working on the F111 was all its avionics equipment. That’s, it had
the first generation I guess, of solid state transistorised equipment in it. It had three separate computers, one each for making the aeroplane pitch, roll and also to yaw, so it had three of those, so it was fly by wire I guess, if you like. The controlling puts in to the computers, the computers then told the,
the control surfaces which way to move and how fast to move, and how big to move. So each of those computers controlled a different surface and inside each computer there was three circuits, three logic circuits in there. So if one logic circuit was faulty the other two would vote it out and that didn’t always work. And if,
if they ever had a failure they would automatically say, “I’ve had a failure,” and you’d, they’d then pull that module out and you’d have to then fix it. So you’d put it on to this particular test equipment, automatic test station, and it would simulate being in an aeroplane and try and diagnose where the fault was so we would then replace or repair that particular component. So that was the three comp, the three avionics computers, and then also, there was also the navigation computer
which was a big thing, sat in the cockpit that the navigator played with, which worked out speed and distance. And it was the first generation of inertial navigation systems, so without wanting to go into too much detail, it had a set of gyroscopic instruments, it sat there and said, “I’m in this point in space.” And then as the aeroplane moved it would then
tell it, it would have, it had sensors off that gyroscope that said, “I’m now moving at this speed and this rate.” And that would then feed to this computer and the computer would say, “Well you’re now doing this amount of ground speed or this amount of air speed, or you’re pitched at this angle or you’re pitched at that angle,” or whatever, and it was notoriously unreliable as well. And there was also another computer that went on that test station as well which was the bombing computer which worked out trajectories and velocities and
all that sort of stuff. So they’d feed in what sorta bomb they’re gonna drop and it would then work out the parameters to pick a release point for the bomb, and that was our stuff. But the test equipment that tested all that stuff, it was nearly as unreliable as the gear that was in it. They’ve since had a complete refit of the F111
some years down the track with new avionics equipment which is far more reliable. Back then, you know... everyone these days is familiar with your little plug in microchips that plug in to everything, nowadays you see ‘em on everything. Back then they didn’t exist so the first attempts at it were, you know, big circuit cards
like this bolted together or soldered together with individual components all in them and then soldered onto a card, so they were big and bulky and notoriously unreliable for bad solder joints and cracked solder joints and that’s what we spent our time doing a lot of was repairing solder joints. So that’s basically the F111 avionics side of what I did in a nutshell.
So from a civilian point of view the F111s are kind of synonymously
high cutting edge technology?
It was then.
Is that... yeah. Did it feel like that when you were working on them?
Yeah, it was then. It was the place to be. It was the latest and greatest piece of kit that we had and it was the most technically challenging aeroplane to work on.
Why was it technic, was it because of all those computer elements or...?
Yeah, and it was,
it was a complicated aeroplane, it had lots of things in it, all competing and working with each other to try and make the aeroplane fly to a high level of performance and yeah, it was a very technical, technically advanced aeroplane for its time. When the F-18 came along of course it was sort of second rate to the F-18 but back
then it was a good aeroplane, technology-wise, just needed a little bit better execution of some of the things that it did.
How many were in the fleet at Amberley?
Twenty-four I think, I think we bought twenty-four of ‘em, we crashed about four or five in the early days and then they bought a few replacements to replace the four that crashed so I think we had about
twenty-four at any one time.
What happened with some of the early crashes?
The, why they crashed is probably not my place to say. The, predominantly they ran into hills or crashed into the ground, that was what happened to them. Why that happened to them, you know, that’s the subjects of board of inquires and I probably didn’t have
a lot of input or knowledge of flying at that stage to sort of really take a great interest in it. But most crashes of aeroplanes are generally caused by pilot error of so, in some way, shape or form, and that’s probably what happened to the F111, a lot of them.
Were there any fatalities in relation to those crashes?
Oh yeah, yep, every F111 crash we had I think was fatal. I don't think anybody ever successfully ejected in
Australia out of an F111, not that I recall.
What kind of affect does that have on the base?
Everybody’s obviously devastated when that happens. That you’ve lost an aeroplane, you’ve lost, you know, aircrews. But back in those days the aircrews and the tradesmen never really integrated at all, so the aircrew were the aircrew and they did their thing and the tradesmen were the tradesmen and they did their
thing. And you never really met them so you never, there was never really a personal sort of interface between the aircrew and the pilots. There was a little bit I guess if you worked on a flight line but not a lot. So yeah it was devastating to lose an aeroplane and to lose the aircrew was obviously sad but you didn’t really know them. And it probably, it was just as devastating we had,
you know, a couple of guys killed in car crashes and that was, you know, guys you know, and that was just as devastating or worse in fact, because you knew the guys. Yeah.
So how long were you in Amberley for?
Bit over two years as I recall. At the time, at that time the F111 was going through a refit, they were just getting
this new technology called pay-tack, which is laser guided bomb delivery system, and it meant a trip over to America to pick it up, to train on it and learn about it and cause I wanted to go on a trip over to America I thought, ‘That’s me, I want to do that.’ So I applied for the pay-tack program and my boss called me in and said, “Look, normally you’d be the first sort of person that we’d choose
to go, but you’ve already sort of told me that you’re intending to apply for pilot’s course at the end of the year.” And he said, “We can’t afford to send you over to America and then lose you at the end of the year,” you know, “if you’re accepted.” And I said, “Well there’s no guarantee I’m going to get accepted.” He said, “Yeah, but I’m not willing to take that risk.” So it was only a matter of a couple of weeks after that, that I got a phone call from Canberra saying I’d been accepted on the F-18 project, which meant six months in America. And I said, “But I’m applying
for pilot’s course at the end of the year, do you still want to take me over to America?” And they said, “Look there’s no guarantee you’re going to get pilot’s course, so off you go, go over to America to learn about the F-18.” So I dutifully packed by bags and off I went and had a great time and came back and six months later I was on pilot’s course, having never actually touched the piece of equipment that I was trained on. The piece of equipment that I was trained on hadn’t even arrived in Australia by the time I’d left to go onto pilot’s course, so.
Were you doing any kind of preparation whilst you were at Amberley for that pilot’s course?
I was, I had to go back to night school cause I only had year eleven and you needed year twelve to get onto pilot’s course. So in between doing my work, I was also going to night school, trying to do a couple of subjects a year. That got interrupted twice,
one year it got interrupted because I got married and I never sort of sat the exams and another year there was an F111 deployment over to America, it was about a three month deployment that we went on for a competition, a bombing competition. The aircrew all competed in this bombing competition, they took tradesmen over to help, look after the aeroplanes, maintain the aircraft while they were over there.
And I got on that trip and it coincided with exam time and I thought, ‘Oh do I do the exams and miss out on this trip or do I just delay things a year,’ so I elected to delay things a year and go on the trip over to America. And that was a good time too, we did a lot of good things, went to a lot of good places, had a lot of good fun things to do.
And yeah, then when I came back, went back to night school and then this F-18 deployment came up and it coincided with exam time as well. And I made arrangements then to actually sit the exams over in America, so that worked out alright, I sat the exams over there and managed to pass whilst away.
So tell me about what you were learning over in the states?
On the F-18 project? The F-18 project was similar sort of thing to the F111, it was all its avionics equipment, its flight controls, computers and its navigation systems and the automatic test equipment again that drove that. So as an automatic test equipment specialist from F111s I got dragged into the F-18 project and it was
similar sort of thing but far more modern technology, it was the latest technology. And yeah, as an example I guess, the F111 used, when you used to type things in on it, and in program you used to type it all in, in hexadecimal. So I don't know if you’re a computer geek or not but that was a real old language, hexadecimal language, it,
basically its the letters one through to nine or ten and A, B, C, D, E, F, G, so that then you program everything like that. And when we went to the F-18 it had, you know, computer, it had keyboards and things, you know, proper keyboards and had it’s own language, it’s own automatic test station language that you could write programs in and stuff. So it was much more cutting edge technology but the course
itself was real basic, was real Bob basic sort of course, cause it was designed for American tradesmen who really are not so much a lesser qualifications than us but their, they work to a more simplistic system. So they only take it to this sort of level whereas we would take it to a much more
detailed level, and the course only took it to this level. So we found the course very easy, it was supposed to be two twelve week courses but we basically condensed it down. And we had a couple of Americans in our course with us as well and we tutored them so that we could finish the course early. So we had, instead of doing the course
in twelve weeks we did it in ten weeks, and then we were programmed to have two weeks off over Christmas anyway, so then we had four weeks off and then the actual next course got delayed by two weeks so we had six weeks off in the middle of the thing to just basically tour around and do whatever we wanted to do. And it was great we, my wife was over there, we, my wife was over there with me, we lived in an apartment complex over there, bought a car and drove around and toured and
went do lots of good places and I played a lot of golf, which was good.
Were the Americans surprised at the level of knowledge the Australians were at?
Yeah I think so, I think it was evident on the other deployment, the F111 deployment that I went on. Like when we went, obviously we didn’t take our own test station with us, test station is you know, half the size of this room,
so we used their test station to test our equipment. But their test stations were all, like where we had two of the test stations at Amberley, they had a room with four of them, four of those test stations, and out of those four only one worked when we went over there, and they would just rob parts off the other three to keep that one going. So when we got over there we said, “Oh look, we’ll just have this one over here
and we’ll fix that up.” So within a, you know, a few days, I had that test station going and they thought, ‘Well that’s pretty good,’ so then I started working on the next one. By the end of the few weeks we were there I had all four test stations running properly and they, the Americans couldn’t believe it, they cancelled everybody’s leave and bought ‘em all in and started working twenty-four hour shifts to clear all their backlog of components that they hadn’t been able to fix at that time.
So they were very appreciative of what we did for them and I got a nice letter of commendation from them and they let me off the charges for crashing one of their cars, so that was all pretty good.
So what was your opinion about the state of the American Air force?
They just did, they did things differently, they just, they didn’t have as in-depth a knowledge. They, where we had,
at the time we had seven aircraft trades, you know, different specialisations, they had something like fifty. So where we would know, you know, all the avionics components of an F111, their specialty might only be one particular piece of it. You know, like where I would’ve worked on the avionics, the flight controls computers, the nav [navigation] computer, I can work on all the other bits and pieces on the aeroplane
as well, they would specialise to just that one component. And they have test station operators and test station maintainers whereas we had operators and maintainers all rolled into one. So they would not, like if he was just a test station operator he wouldn’t be able to, he wouldn’t be able to go and do any maintenance on the test station, he’d have to then call in a maintainer to come and do it, so he really knew nothing about the equipment that he was working on. And that was just the way they trained cause it was cheaper for them to
do that, and they had plenty of people in the defence force and that’s what they did and broke their specialisations up. So it wasn’t so much a matter of that we considered them to be less knowledgeable or whatever, they just operated in a different way and it took ‘em a bit longer to get things done than what it did with us.
So you crashed one of their cars?
Yeah, that was... we had a bit of a party one night and
cause they drive on the wrong side of the road over there, we sort of forgot about that at the time. And it was only, it was a minor parking accident, I just put a little dent in the side of one of their... they lent us a van, I put a little dent in the side of it, which we sort of fixed up but somebody dobbed us in. Nobody even noticed it. As it, as it turned out we put this little dent in the side of the door which
was really nothing but the bonnet on this little truck had some repairs done to it as well and we opened the bonnet to look in to do something with the engine, which Americans don’t ever do. And when we went to close the bonnet it wouldn’t close properly and one of the guys slammed the bonnet and this big patch of bog and duco popped off of the bonnet so it had a big dent in the bonnet, which had nothing to do with me crashing it, we’d fixed the dent in the
door and done all that. But anyway we got dobbed in so I put my hand up and said, ‘Oh yeah, it was me, I crashed your van.” They said, “Oh well look at that dent in the bonnet.” I said, “Hey I didn’t do the dent in the bonnet, I did the dent in the door.” “What dent in the door?” Anyhow the Australian Air force had to be seen to do the right thing because it was a bad thing to crash one of their cars and not tell ‘em about it, so we had a little charge and a hearing and I got a slap on the wrist and everybody was happy, so
it was something, nothing. But there was, we had lots of good things, like we stayed in a hotel while we were there off the base and it was good, and we went skiing and all over the place. It was a great, that was a great deployment that first one, and the second one with the F-18s was even better, it was, that was a lot of fun.
Were you pretty impressed with the F-18s?
The F-18 was a good aeroplane, very,
very, again it was the latest and greatest at the time and yeah, it was a lot simpler to work on than the F111. It was far more complicated but the technology had developed so that it was a new thing and it didn’t break down as often. And it was more reliable and the test equipment that they’d
developed to test the components was actually quite good, so yeah it was a good thing. But the course was easy.
So what was it like wrapping up and leaving there?
That was alright, we packed up and came back home and got posted from Amberley to Williamtown down in Newcastle.
So we came straight back from America and went straight to Williamtown and got a house and got set up there. Had our second child then.
Oh when did you have your first one?
Trying to think... Travis was born in Ipswich on our first posting.
So you had a child in America with you?
went with us, he was only a little, he was a twelve month old. And yeah, he went everywhere with us. That was the, I mean, that deployment, that six month deployment with the F-18s, that was supposed to be unaccompanied, it was, they, the air force didn’t pay for my wife to go, or family to go. We elected to,
to go so we put our gear in storage and Fiona came over about a month after I’d been over there, she came over, and we paid our own way basically to rent a flat and rent some furniture and get ourselves set up. And most of the guys did, most of the guys bought their wives over with them. Six months away would’ve been a fairly long time with a little
twelve month old baby, so that’s what we elected to do. And as I said, then we came back to Williamtown.
And had you applied for your pilot’s course at this stage?
No, I’d just finished the exams and I got the exam results back while I was in America. And then after I got back, oh probably a couple of months after I got back I put in the application
for pilot’s course. And yeah, as I said, we were trying to set the area up that this test equipment was gonna be set up in and get all the parts in and all the stuff that we needed to do and start setting up procedures and stuff for this test equipment, but it hadn’t even arrived in the country by the time I’d been, accepted the pilot’s course and gone. So
whilst there was a little bit of, there was a little bit of animosity about it between the engineering side and the aircrew side, that the aircrew side were pinching me having been trained in America for this F-18 gear. It was, the department of personnel said, “Look if he’s applied for pilot’s course, he’s got the goods to go, we’re taking him. Bad luck, you shouldn’t have sent him in the first place, if you thought you didn’t want to lose him.”
And they didn’t put any return of service on my course, so they didn’t say, “When you come back you have to do at least two years before you can go anywhere else.” They just said, “You go and do the course and...” and so that started a bit of in-fighting, but DPO [Departmental Posting Officer?], the officer’s side won out in the end and off I went.
So that was kind of more between departments rather than...?
Yeah, not personally, nobody gave two hoots personally. But
yeah, they were, in fact all the people I worked with were all very supportive, they wrote me nice reports and said, “Yep, he should go, give him a go.”
I guessed you’d warned them as well.
I had warned them, I’d told them I was planning to go, I was planning to apply, so they all knew.
And was it unusual for a ground crew to go and apply for pilots?
Yeah it was then, there wasn’t a lot of, wasn’t a lot of ex
ground crew that would be on pilot’s course. There’s probably, like on my pilot’s course of thirty-odd people on my pilot’s course there was three of us I think, three or four of us who’d come from the ranks, from ex-tradesmen predominantly. So yeah, about four per intake I guess out of the whole of
the defence force.
That’s pretty low, why do you think it’s that low?
I don't know. It’s not an easy thing to get into. It, I mean the selection for aircrew is very competitive even in the civilian field, they don’t take a great number. So I guess from within the air force
just to get an interview, just to get to the same level as a guy who walks off the street, to walk into a recruiting office, you have to get recommended by your section commander, then you gotta get your commanding officer to approve your application. Then you’ve gotta get the officer commanding of the base to approve your application before you even can then go to the recruiting board and say, oh to go to the recruiting section and say,
“Hey I wanna apply.” So you’ve already had to jump through three other hurdles that guys off the street don’t jump through. And then you’re just lumbered in with the guys off the street and often those guys are coming, and I guess that’s what recruiting is set up for, its set up to get guys who are coming straight off the street who have just finished school or have just done a year of university or whatever. So you gotta go in and do all the aptitude testing and the maths
testing and the English testing and all that sort of stuff and you haven’t done it for a while, it is a bit daunting I guess and a lot of guys just can’t do it. And then of course comes the interview with the board, so you sit in front of four guys and they grill you with questions and ask you all about your motivation and your aptitude and your education and whether you know what you’re getting yourself in for. And,
and a lot of guys don’t handle that interview very well. I was lucky, I had an easy interview, I think they must’ve made their decision that they were going to accept me before they even did the interview because it was, it wasn’t daunting at all. But a lot of guys who got knocked back said, “Oh the interview process that’s really hard, and they do all this, do all these things.” So I, the interview process was probably the scariest thing, I was
worried about, I practised interview technique with guys and everybody that’d been on one before you, you go and grab ‘em and say, “What’d they ask you on the interview board?” And course when you go in there they ask you all completely different things you haven’t studied for. Like one guy said, “Oh they’ll ask you to count backwards in multiples of seven from a hundred,” so I practised, I could count backwards in multiples of seven from a hundred with my eyes shut, no problem at all. And when I got in there, they said, “Count backwards from a hundred and three in multiples of seven,” and that
completely threw me. And I went, “I’ve been practising counting backwards from a hundred, can I start at a hundred?” “No, no, a hundred and three.” “Okay.” So anyway, in the...
What are they, that’s a very, bit of an obscure one... were there any other kind of more specific ones as well?
Not really, its just one of those things that you ask somebody to do and then you interrupt them half way through it, ask ‘em another question and then say, “Continue back from where you were.” Its just to see whether you can sort of multi task, do two or three things
at once. And as time went on I, after I become the aircrew specialist officer in Townsville, I would go and do the interviews with the guys in here and I’d do exactly the same thing. And you’d ask them all sorts of, you know, just general questions, see what their motivation is and see whether they can think on their feet and that was really what the interview was about, ‘Can you think on your feet? Do you know what you’re talking about? Do you know what you’re getting yourself in for?’
When they ask you, ‘Do you know what you’re getting yourself
in for?’ I mean what was that?
They wanna make sure that, (a) you know you’re gonna be in for an intensive eighteen months of hard training, that you’re gonna be moving from where you are down to Melbourne for six or twelve months and then another six or twelve months at Point Cook, ah sorry, at Pearce in Western Australia. And that
you know, you’re gonna be flying a couple of times a day, studying hard to actually pass, you, that the next eighteen months of your life is basically gonna be devoted to working and studying, that’s what its gonna be. And they wanna make sure, you know, you’ve thought about what you’re gonna do with your family and whether they’re gonna travel with you or whether they’re gonna, you’re gonna leave them behind or what you’re gonna do. So that side of things that they wanna make sure that you know
exactly what you’re gonna do there, that you’ve thought through. And that, you know, you could be posted somewhere else and that your role and your life as an officer is quite different to your life as an airman would’ve been. So they just ask some general questions like, ‘How do you think your life will change from being an airman to being an officer?’
Okay, we’re at the end of another tape so we’ll just...
Interviewee: Warren Schmitt Archive ID 2402 Tape 03
Tell us again, you mentioned it briefly, tell us again about the ambition to be a pilot, how that came, where it came from?
Where’d the motivation come from? It was very early in, very early on in the air force, I was, I told you we were being told, yelled at to line up and do things as an apprentice. And
at the time an F111 went over at low level, high speed, made a lot of noise, everybody went ‘Ooh, gee, that was impressive.’ And I thought, ‘Gee that’d be fun to do something like that, to fly aeroplanes.’ And I guess it was always, it was one of those ladders to climb, its a, its something I’ve always aimed, you always aim to be the best you can be. Which I guess is why,
why I aimed for one of the harder trades, you know, be an instrument fitter, be there, and then I went to F111s and then I got onto F-18s and, you know, my aim was always to be the best that I could be. And I’m gonna kill Buddy in a minute (refers to a dog off camera). Yeah, so I guess it was just one of those things, I wanted to
be, I wanted to be a pilot because I figured that was, that that was the thing, the best thing to achieve, that you could achieve in the air force, would be a pilot.
Is this also, not only personally thought, but is this also thought across the board in the air force?
I guess so, I know I always held aircrew as, you know, sort of the epitome of what air force life was about,
and I guess other people do too. I know some people might sort of think they’re a, there’s a bit of elitism there but its not really, I mean aircrew are just normal people like anybody else, as it turns out. I always thought there was some mysterious thing that you’d have to change your whole lifestyle to become a pilot but you don’t, its just, you’re just a normal person, you’re just doing a different job. And its just one of those sort of other sort of harder jobs that you do. So, at the
end of the day, its still just a job.
What did you think you’d have to change your life to be?
Oh I don't know, I just thought I’d have to be a far more fine upstanding member of the community than what I used to be. But as it turned, yeah, it didn’t change my life very much, it didn’t change the way I acted, just... do you want me to kill that dog?
Oh I might...
Yeah, just cut my, just...
Alright, well tell us about
how you received your news that you were into the pilot’s course?
I don’t actually remember how I received it. No I don’t actually recall how, oh I got told at the actual interview that I’d been accepted, and then it was just a matter of waiting for a course to come up. So, yeah, I’d been accepted and I just had to wait for a course.
And that, no it was only a few months I think as I recall that I, before I actually got onto a course, I got onto a course in November or December of that same year.
Well tell us the feeling you had when you heard that news that you’d got in?
Oh obviously I was elated at getting in. It was one of those things, I just hoped that I’d be able to do well. You know, I always thought,
I thought that I would have no trouble, and it turned, as it turned out the course was a lot harder than I actually anticipated. So far as the academic side of it went, it wasn’t too bad, I was no whiz at aerodynamics, but most of the stuff was okay. But the actual piloting side of it, the actual flying the aeroplane was, to the,
to the sort of specifications and level that was expected of military pilots was a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be, cause I had very little flying experience. I’d done about two or three lessons in a little Cessna, just to get a feel for it and make sure that I was, actually liked flying and I didn’t find that too difficult, but once I went, once we started on pilot’s course and they wanted you to fly to the sort of level that they wanted you to fly at,
I found it difficult. And I was always, I was sorta always on the edge if you know what I mean, I was always, I could’ve gone either way, I could’ve been on the scrub list or on the go list, you know, I just sort of teetered on that edge. I managed to get through but as I said I was no star student.
Well tell us about the course, where was it?
The first part of the course was at Point Cook down in Melbourne. That was, back in those days it was CT-4s [training aeroplane] for your basic training, so a little propeller driven, piston engine side by side seating aeroplane. And it, no, not a real big performance aeroplane but challenging enough
to start with. So, I forget how many hours we did there, I think we did about fifty or sixty hours in the CT-4, all pretty basic sort of stuff, basic flying skills. And then once you’d finished that, if you got through that lot, then you got sent over to Pearce in Western Australia to fly the Macci [jet] back in those days, which was a
much higher performance little jet aeroplane. And it was the more military focus, the actual military type flying, formation and low level and all that sort of more detailed sort of stuff.
Well tell us first up about going in there for the very first time, like what was the atmosphere like in the place?
At Point Cook?
It was different again, different I guess for the, for me, and for some of the other guys who were, they used to call us retreads back then because we’d been, we were, we’d already been in the air force but we were getting retreaded with a different role. So that the retreads, there was me and a couple of other guys on the
course, we had gone from being either, you know, leading aircraftsman or in my case I was a corporal. We went from that to losing our rank and becoming officer cadets and we were expected to know a lot more than what the guys who’d come straight off the street had, were. Yeah, we went, as I said we went
from sort of being corporals or LACs [Leading Aircraftsmen] to officer cadets and basically treated like the lowest of the low again, which came as a bit of a shock but, you know, you get used to it. And everybody was excited but there was always the, there was always the thought of not making it, that was always hanging over your head. And pilot’s course then, and I, probably still has today, I don't know, I’d haven’t checked the statistics recently but it’s about a fifty percent failure rate,
so only half of those that start will actually finish, and you don’t wanna be on the half that doesn’t finish.
What happens to them?
Generally they’ll be offered something else. If they’re straight off the street then chances are they’ll just be sent back to wherever they came from, or they’ll be, you know, ‘The service is no longer required.’ If you’re a retread then
generally they won’t send you back to your trade, although if you wanted to do that you could. But if your officer qualities were there then they generally retrain you as an engineering officer or something like that. That happened to one of the guys off my pilot’s course who was a, he was a tradesman of some description, I think he might’ve been a red tech. And he got scrubbed fairly early on in the piece and he then did an engineering officer course and became an engineering
officer. So there were always options for you but, you know, I didn’t, but if it had’ve come to that then that would’ve been alright, but I didn’t really want to be an engineering officer, I wanted to be a pilot.
Do they give you warning that you’re close to getting scrubbed?
Oh yeah, yep you know. You’re always on the edge, you always know. So all your, every flight is scored,
every... (to dog) Buddy, Buddy, sit down, go on, go and lay down. Yeah, every flight’s scored, they’re scored on a points system from a one through to a five, sorry, a zero through to a five. Zero being a fail, one being marginal and five being, you know, exceptional. I didn’t get too many fives, I got a lot of twos
and a fair number of ones. But a fail, failing a ride would put you on a warning, fail another ride... generally the third fail was a scrub ride, so if you failed three times you were gone. And if you had, sort of, three marginals in a row then they would, they’d have a closer
look at you as well and tell you, you know, send you up with the CO [Commanding Officer] or the chief flying instructor and they’d tell you, “This is a scrub ride, you either pass this flight or you’re going home.” And I had a couple of them, but I managed to survive, so.
Do they put the pressure on or do they, is it more supportive atmosphere?
It depends. Each individual instructor is different, so
some of the instructors, some of the instructors are more supportive than others. Others, and others are out there to try and... I mean they all, all wanna teach you but if you can’t learn at the pace that they want to teach you at, then some of them will be quick to fail you, whereas others will take a bit more time. But it just depends on the individual, and there’s always, there’s always, you know, instructors who have this reputation
of, you know, being the scrubbers. Usually its unjustified having then been through the, having been through the instructor’s system then, you find that all the guys are there to sorta, to get the students to pass, but sometimes you just, doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t get the student to pass, they just won’t pass, no matter what you do. And it’s often
the better instructors that get the weaker students, and as a result the weaker students are the ones that tend to fail so the better instructors are the ones that get the reputation of being the scrubbers, cause they always scrub people. But yeah, that, I was lucky, I guess I had a pretty good rapport with the guys over there, with the instructors.
So when it came time at Point Cook, they had to make a decision, ‘Do we send this guy over to Western Australia or do we say no?’ (to dog)_ ...I am gonna lock you out.
Okay, lost my train of thought for a second. Okay so tell us about your very first flight?
Oh I think I threw up as I recall.
That was one of those things you didn’t want to do either. There was always, there was so much pressure and so much nerves that a lot of guys got air sick, and some guys didn’t get over it. Luckily I, I think I was air sick once and then got over it, but yeah, it was funny, it was a funny old thing. I vividly remember a guy called Jack Rodstrum who was one of the senior flying instructors there at the time, and
back in those days you were allowed to smoke, and he used to smoke in the aeroplane, and he used to smoke in the CT-4, so he would roll a cigarette on, while you’re doing a circuit and he’d smoke it and he’d, on final he’d put it out in the ash tray and... he was a funny guy. And he let me do my first landing as I recall, and it was a disaster. I think I hit the ground that hard, we bounced back up into the air and, ‘Well, I guess you’ll need more
practise at that.’ Yeah, so it was a funny old time. But course you can’t do that any more, you’re not allowed to smoke in aeroplanes any more and you can’t do any of those sorts of things. But old Jack, unfortunately he was killed in an accident in New Guinea a few years ago, in a Caribou of all things, a civilian Caribou. But yeah, he was sort of the first guy I think that sent me solo, mmm.
tell us about your first solo?
Might’ve been as a result of that first landing. Yeah, I went solo, back then solo, I think your first solo was get airborne and do one circuit or two circuits and that was, yeah, that was pretty exciting to be up there by yourself, and nerve wracking. The whole time it was, you were a bundle of nerves the whole time you were in the thing. Yeah,
got over it, got through it, tried hard, worked hard and then managed to pass.
Well yeah, like what’s the feeling on each step, like getting through your first solo, did you feel confident after that?
You never feel confident, you never ever feel confident on pilot’s course, or I never did anyway. But I, everybody that I knew never felt confident either, all the guys that, all the guys that passed all were the same, were all on
the edge the whole time. The guys that, the guys that got scrubbed often were the guys that would say, “Oh yeah, I had a good ride, that was a good, I had a good flight, I had no problems,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and next week they were gone. You think, ‘God if he’s, if he got scrubbed, what’s gonna happen to me, I’ve been struggling all this time and he’s been having no trouble, and he’s got scrubbed,’ so I guess its a perception, I guess the guys that thought they were doing well and got scrubbed really weren’t doing too well at all. Whereas the guys like myself and the fellas that I graduated with, we
all thought we were all hopeless and had to try harder and had to work harder and I guess that got us through, so yeah. But it was a lot of little hurdles, you know, you worked hard until you got through your first solo, when they, when you first got sent solo. Then there was the next step was your Intermediate Progress Test, your IPT and then there was the GF, General Flying test,
general flying progress test which was at the end of 1FTS [No. 1 Flight Training School], which determined whether you would then go on to fly Maccis at Point, at Pearce. And then once you got over to Pearce there was some big hurdles then, the instrument rating test used to knock out a fair percentage of people, and the other one which was the,
the IFHT, I can tell you what the abbreviation was but I don't know if you’d be allowed to have it on the print. You can always edit it out, it was called the IFPT, yeah, IFHT the Intermediate Final Handling Test was what it was, was its proper name, but everybody used to call it the ‘Incredibly Fucking Hard Test’. And if you got through that
then you were almost right, cause the only big test after that was nav and wings, and nobody got scrubbed on wings. There was a few guys got scrubbed on, you know, over the years, there’s been a few guys scrubbed on wings but very rarely does anybody get scrubbed on wings, and hardly anybody gets scrubbed on nav, although I nearly did. But if you get through the F…, the intermediate
final handling test that, you were pretty much home free then, and in the IRT [Instrument Ratings Test].
What are these two tests, the tough ones?
The Instrument Rating Test.
Yeah and, the instrument rating test, why are people being scrubbed so much for that one and the IF...?
The FIHT, oh IFHT.
I can only remember your...
The abbreviation for it.
your joke one, the incredibly...
Yeah, the final handling test, its the intermediate final handling test.
Its the big general flying test before wings. The instrument rating test, instrument, flying under instrument flying conditions is always hard, its one of the hardest things to do in an aeroplane, and to do it in a Macci is even harder. So you sit in, to do your instrument rating, you sit in the back of the aeroplane and all the canopy is enclosed, so you can’t see out,
at all. All you can see in front of you are the flying, are the instruments, so its all instrument flying, so obviously you don’t do the take off or the landing. You can’t see out, its quite disorientating and its simulated its flying in cloud, and it is difficult, the, so that used to bring a lot of people unstuck, and still does today. I mean, a lot of aircraft that crash around the world today are,
are people who get ‘emselves in trouble in cloud and invariably they lose control or they crash into a hill, because they lose track of where they are. So its a very important part of flying, is your instrument flying and as a result its quite difficult, its a difficult test. The other one, the IFHT is, its,
they can throw anything at you on that test, and it is the last real chance they’ve got of saying, “This guy’s either gonna make it or he’s not gonna make it.” And so if you’re a bit marginal then they’re not gonna let you progress to the wings test cause nobody gets, they don’t, it would look very stupid for you to have done eighteen months of training to get scrubbed on the last
ride. So the one before that, the intermediate handling test is the one that will getcha, if its gonna getcha. So, and as I said, the only other big one was nav. but not very many people got scrubbed on nav although I did my best to fail it, I had to do a re-ride on it, so.
And during this time is your wife going with you to...?
She did, she went with us on those, on both of those postings. I had two children by that stage and yeah, she came with me. I had a room on base as well, so if I needed to I could stay on base and study, or I could come home. And I used to find, I personally found it a lot easier to have my home, my family around me, I found
that easier to work with. Some guys didn’t, some guys found it easier to stay out on the base and leave their wives and families wherever they were and do it that way, but I found it easier to have my wife there. I’d just come home and have dinner and then switch off for a minute and then I’d start studying again. And you know, we used to study every night, you’d study every night during the week.
Friday night you’d generally allow yourself to have a break, so you’d have a break on Friday night.
Its very loud. Yeah.
(to dog) Buddy, shut up!
So its rolling again, yeah.
So Friday night you’d give yourself a break, you’d have a few beers, you’d do whatever you were gonna do on Friday night and
relax. And then I would generally give myself Saturday as well unless there was a big test or something coming up, which you’d study on Saturday but I used to try and relax and play golf, have a game of golf on Saturday generally, and then Sunday you’re back into it, so you’d study all day Sunday. Back to the school on Monday and back studying every night again, and that went on, that went on for eighteen months.
Its a pretty
stressful kind of existence?
Yeah it was, it was, and people don’t understand it. Like you know, people don’t understand that that’s what you’ve gotta do. I had my mother-in-law came to visit just before I finished at Point Cook and it was coming up to one of the big tests and she wanted to go somewhere on Saturday and I said, “I’m,” I said, “Look I’m not,
I’m not going, I’ve got studying to do, I’ve got this to do, I’ve got, I’ve just got too much to do to take you somewhere,” she wanted to go to an antique shop. And I said, “I just can’t, I just got too much to do,” and she couldn’t quite fathom that. So it is a stressful time, and its not something everybody can do.
And so what’s it like to get to the end and receive your wings?
that was the biggest weight off your shoulders that you could ever imagine. (to dog) I’m gonna kill him.
We’ll pause, I’ll ask that question again when we... Okay, I just asked you before, what it was like to get to the end and receive your wings?
Relief is what it was. It was, ‘Finally I’ve done it, I’ve made it,’ and it was a terrific feeling to get that out of the way and graduate.
And of course everybody, family and friends and that all came for the graduation ceremony and the parade and all that, so you know, you felt like you were, you know, you felt that you’d done something very important. It wasn’t until you then finish and have your graduation parade and they pin your wings on and then you get out to the squadron and you realise you actually don’t know anything, and you have to start all over again cause then you start
a conversion onto the aircraft, operational aircraft that you’re gonna fly, so you start all over again. And its always a restart process, you get to the top, bang, you get knocked down to the bottom and then you work your way up and get knocked down again, and that’s what aircrew’s all about. Always starting off, learning from, learning from the beginning and working your way up, so.
And what about in regards to rank?
Yeah, once I graduated, you graduate, you become a pilot officer then, which is the junior-est officer rank. But in those sort of terms rank’s not very important but yeah, pilot officer.
Was there a change though from being like...
a cadet, from before when you were,
you know, fitting and this kind of thing to being an officer? Did you notice a cultural change or anything of this order?
Oh, not really, not really. I thought there would be quite a sort of cultural change but its really not, really no different. I didn’t find it particularly different between being an officer and being an airman. Just we, instead of going to the airman’s club I went to the officer’s mess, that was about the only
difference, you know. But some things were a little bit different but nothing huge.
And what about the differences getting to the top so far as your aim, you know, to be a pilot now?
Yeah that was good but I still had a lot of things I wanted to do, you know. I’d initially thought, I’d initially thought when I
started pilot’s course, I’d initially thought, and I guess it was just because of my background on F111s, but that I would like to have flown F111s, but as I said, I was no star, was no star performer. And, you know, it was, I was never gonna be an F111 pilot, it was going to be too much work for me to actually achieve that.
Not that there’s a difference, there’s, I suppose there is... everybody must achieve the standard to get to wings. So I guess anybody, anybody’s who’s achieved wings technically has the capacity to fly any aeroplane that the air force has as an inventory. But, you know, there are those guys that just have more natural piloting ability than others and generally those guys are the guys who go and fly fast jets,
F111s, F-18s. But having said that, some guys who have the ability to fly F111s, F-18s just simply don’t want to, or they just don’t have the personalities to do it. So, you know, I was more of a, always more of a transport type pilot. I actually wanted to fly helicopters off pilot’s course.
Whilst initially I thought I wanted to fly F111s, it became obvious to me that that was sort of gonna be beyond, be out of my scope, so I actually put down that I wanted to fly helicopters off pilot’s course, when the air force owned helicopters before the army took them off, but then again, so did half my pilot’s course wanted to fly helicopters, so. And there was a position to be filled at VIP transport,
and I guess cause I was one of the oldest guys in the course as well, and most of the guys on my course were straight out of school, eighteen years old and I was twenty-five or twenty-six I think at the time, so a little bit more mature. And I got given the position of going to VIP transport and yeah, it turned out to be a pretty good move. I had some very good mentors that I had
in the VIP transport world who taught me a lot and, you know, gave me a lot of opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have got anywhere else, so I really enjoyed my time at VIP.
Well tell us, what kind of things were you doing at VIP?
When you get, when you first get posted to VIP transport squadron, especially as a guy straight off pilot’s course, you sit there as a co-pilot, you will always be a co-pilot, because you can never achieve
the experience levels to be a VIP transport captain. But I managed to achieve, I managed to achieve captaincy on the aeroplane but I wasn’t ever allowed to captain it when we had anybody important in the back of it. So I could fly it all over the countryside with nobody in the back, but not as captain, but with VIPs in it, only as a co-pilot. And it was great, we flew all sorts of important people
around, predominantly the Prime Minister and Governor General, but any visiting dignitaries that turned up as well, we carted them around. Stayed in some great hotels, ate lots of nice food and generally had a good time everywhere we went, so it was good fun.
What aircraft were you flying?
I was flying an aeroplane called a BAC 1-11, British Aerospace built it. It’s a,
in it’s civilian fit out its about a sixty or seventy seat, twin jet passenger aeroplane about the size of a, a little bit smaller than a 737 I guess, in the current sort of ideas, but in VIP fit it carried thirty people. It had a very nice layout out the back, in the back of it. Two pilots and a navigator
and up to, sort of, four or five stewards in the back, flight stewards. And yeah, basically it was, it was reserved for the Prime Minister and Governor General and visiting heads of state and visiting dignitaries. And if they weren’t using it then some of the other politicians could use it, so we’d be flying people all over Australia at the drop of a hat and we did some overseas deployments as well in it.
I’m interested in some of these stories. This is the time...?
I don't know whether some of them I can tell ya.
Well actually, just pause for a second. ...thought I’d tell you that. Okay, so this is the time of what, Hawke?
Hawke was the Prime Minister, yep. He was a funny little guy, he’s nice guy. Nice guy, always you know, said hello to you and would jump on
and always had a smile and a joke. But always late, never ever on time, ever on time and we would sit for hours and hours and hours waiting for him. And often you know, and I’m sure the ex-Prime Minister won’t mind me saying, often he was caught up in casinos, he used to like having a punt and he used to like having a bet on the races.
And often we’d be flying, often we’d be flying and the Prime Minister’d stick his head in the cockpit door and he’d say, “Ah, any chance of getting us the results of Sydney race six?” So you’d, we used to have a telephone patch system in the aeroplane so we could telephone patch, so you’d ring up the TAB [Totalizer Agency Board, a betting agent] and, you know, ‘This won.’ Or you’d try and get, we could also tune up some of the radio nav. aids in the aeroplane, you could tune those up to,
to pick up to local ABC [Australian Broadcasting Commission] radio station and maybe catch, get the race. If it was a big race day, it was a Saturday, you could always rely on Mr Hawke to be in the cockpit with a head set on trying to listen to the races, and he’d get the shits if you’d lose the radio station, if it was half way through a race. But that was him, and he was always late, always, always late. I got him into trouble one day.
We, the BAC 1-11 was a very, very noisy aeroplane, it was to the point where it was getting banned from just about anywhere. No civilian operators could operate it, because it was so noisy, with all the noise pollution laws around the place now. And Sydney was very, very strict on noise curfews, and you’d basically, you could land,
you couldn’t, you could land after ten but you couldn’t take off after ten I think, was the rule in Sydney at the time, because this thing was just too noisy, it’d wake half of Sydney up. Well he, we’d been waiting for him for hours in Launceston or somewhere down in Hobart and he eventually turned up. We were on our way and I had a, and I was a fairly senior co-pilot at the time, I’d been around the VIP world for a long time, and this guy
who was the captain was a fairly junior captain and he said, “Oh, I don’t want to spend the night in Sydney.” And I said, “Well, we haven’t got any choice, its gonna be half past ten when we land and we’re out of curfew, we can’t take off again.” And he said, “Oh, we’ll get a curfew dispensation,” which basically means you get permission to take off. And I said, “Well we’re not gonna get one of them because there’s no reason for a dispensation.” And he said,
he said, “I’ll go and ask the Prime Minister if he’ll give us a dispensation.” And I said, “Well (a) he can’t do it anyway and (b) he won’t give it to you because there’s no reason for us to take off, we’ll just stay the night, we’ll just go and find a hotel, we’ll stay the night, we’ll fly back tomorrow.” “No, no, no, I’m going down the back.” So off he went, he went down the back and asked the Prime Minister. Anyhow he comes back in the cockpit and says, “Yeah, yeah, the Prime Minister said we can take off.” I said, “Oh,”
I said, “What did you say to him?” He said, “Oh I just told him that we, you know, we were, we wanted to go back to Canberra and you know, we’re outside curfew cause he was late.” And I said, “You did tell him that they get pretty upset about you breaking curfew.” “Oh well he didn’t really ask so I didn’t really tell him.” And at the time, the minister for transport’s the only guy who had the authority to do it anyway and I think the Prime Minister sort of said, “Well I’m his boss, so I can do that.”
So off we went, we blasted off. Well next morning its front page news that ‘Prime Minister’s Jet Breaks Curfew,’ and there was nobody on it. And this of course came up in parliament that the Prime Minister’s jet had broken the curfew. And true to his word, Prime Minister Hawke he got up and said, “Well, I authorised them to take off, it had nothing to do with the air force, I told ‘em they could go.” Cause we were in trouble, me and the
captain were in trouble for breaking the rule and the Prime Minister got us out of trouble, so that was pretty good. But yeah, yeah, always late, always always late.
He was known as a bit of a kind of, you know, he’d have a few words to the ladies and stuff, would he ever do that during the...?
No, no, no, his biggest problem that he had was that he was on a
Pritikin diet and he used to hate it. So whenever his wife Hazel was around, he’d stick to this Pritikin diet, and whenever she wasn’t around, he was into the lollies and the peanuts and the chocolates and anything else that was on board the aeroplane. So he was on his best behaviour when Hazel was around but he was, he didn’t mind a lolly or whatever, when she wasn’t around.
What about Paul Keating, would he take the flights?
we flew Paul Keating around a lot when he was Treasurer but never had a lot of time for him. I don't know why, all his staff loved him, all his staff thought he was the best bloke in the world, but he was a real stand offish sort of a guy. Obviously very clever man but he’d never, he would never get personal with us, he was always straight down the line and we
were there to serve him, that was... And that was fair enough, that was what we were there, that was what we were there for was to provide a service, so he used to take advantage of it as well. But we nearly took off out of Sydney without him one night because we’d told him that the aeroplane had to be back in Canberra that night cause it was tasked for another job the next day and that we had to take off by whatever the curfew time was, that meant we had to
taxi at a certain time and then he had to be there or else we were gonna leave there without him. And his staff said, “You will not leave without him.” And I said, “Watch us, we’ll leave without him because the aeroplane’s gotta be back for a Governor General task or something tomorrow, and we can’t take off outside curfew so he’s either here or the aeroplane’s gone.” And we’d actually started engines and had the doors closed and we were about to taxi when he turned up, and he was most indignant that we would’ve taken off without him. And we said, “Well we told you, we told you that we would leave you here.”
And that didn’t go over too well but that was the way it was.
Alright we’ve come to the end of the tape so...
Interviewee: Warren Schmitt Archive ID 2402 Tape 04
Are there any other incidences with the VIP...?
Oh there was heaps of different things that went on. There was the, when the Queen came over that was a good time. The, to fly the Queen you have to be actually approved by, gazetted through Buckingham Palace to be
the Queen’s crew, to fly her, so you have to be vetted and whatever. And the honour usually goes to whoever the senior co-pilot and usually the CO of the squadron. And at the time I was sort of second in line so the CO and this other pilot got gazetted to do the, to actually fly the Queen, so we got the best job. We got to be the Queen’s back up aeroplane and back up crew, and that was just,
it was terrific because we just flew around behind them, twenty minutes behind them, just in case the aeroplane broke, ever broke down, they would just swap aeroplanes with us. So our aeroplane was kitted out and fitted exactly the same as their aeroplane so we had all their rations, same rations as they had, all the same grog that they had, all the same everything that they had. And we just flew around very casually, no pressure, no nothing on us and the other crew were highly stressed the
whole time, make sure they were on time and best behaviour and we just bummed around and ate all the Queen’s rations that they didn’t eat on the way.
What were the rations?
Oh I can’t remember but it was all good stuff, it was all good stuff, we had, you know, lots of seafood platters and stuff like that. That was good and that was a few trips around as the back up aeroplane. As it turned out then, they never broke down so they never needed our aeroplane.
Who else did I fly around? Oh all sorts of people, I’d have to go through my log book and see who else was there. But there was, we flew a, one of the Arab nations, I can’t remember who it was, it was either the Iraqis or the, or somebody, minister for agriculture and that was, they were on their best behaviour on the ground but when they got in the aeroplane
they, there was cigar smoke and alcohol and all sorts of stuff that I guess they weren’t supposed to be doing. But out of sight, out of mind on the aeroplane.
I guess you would’ve been privy to a lot of scenes that general media don’t see?
Yeah some things you do, nothing that sort of stands out from the... I mean you get a bit of a more personal look at some of the people, you know.
Like Prime Minister Hawke, he was always a, he was always a hoot, he was always funny but, and a nice guy and always wanted to be involved in things. I remember they got a, one night they got a new car for him, I think it was when the new... oh they had an LTD [Luxury Ford] or something that he used to drive around in and the driver turned up to pick him up one night
and they’d got a new Commodore Statesman or something like that. So Hawkey goes, “Oh a new car, beauty!” He said, “I might have a drive then.” The driver sort of looked at him a bit funny and Hawkey jumped into the driver’s seat and tore off on the tarmac, left burning rubber on the tarmac as he went. That’s him, he’s a lad. He was always like that. So yeah that’s some of the insight you get to see.
Saw a few of the royals around, they’re, they were always interesting sort of people, interesting to the point of eccentric but some of them were okay, some of them weren’t.
I won’t tell you the ones that weren’t. Yeah, but yeah, no they were interesting, interesting people.
Okay so how long were you flying the VIPs around for?
About three years. I, the Back 1-11 was retired, normally a posting to VIP is two years but because the aeroplane was about to be retired and it wasn’t worth training anybody else up, they asked, they said, you know, “Can we keep you for another year?” And I said, “Yeah, I don’t mind, I’ll stay.” So I stayed for an extra year and I actually saw the aeroplane out of service, I flew it to Sydney on its last flight,
where it was then disposed of, it was then sold overseas. So yeah, about three years I was there. Saw the end of that one and then got posted to Caribous up in Townsville, which was again, a good thing.
So you moved the family again?
Yeah, up and move again, yeah. Yeah, that was,
that was a posting to get onto an aircraft type where I could get some quick captain time and that was the aim of the game. So I came up here and got some quick captain time and flew for, I was only up here for about two years I think before I got put on to an instructor’s course, which was what we were trying to achieve in the first place.
Why were you trying to get on to the instructor’s...?
Oh cause that’s what I wanted to do. The air force was short of instructors at the time,
they had trialled a couple of things. One thing they trialled was taking guys straight off pilot’s course, they just showed an aptitude for instructing and tried to, instead of giving them any operational experience put them straight onto pilot’s course as instructors, which is a thing they do in America. So they did that and it was reasonably successful, it only lasted about two guys I think, but the two guys that they took did okay.
And my CO when I was at VIP at the time said, “Well look if you’re gonna take guys straight off course, take this guy,” you know, “out of VIP.” And they said, “Oh no, he hasn’t got enough operational experience.” And they said, “Well you’re taking guys straight off instructor’s course, why not take this guy?” It went backwards and forwards for a while and they said, “No, we’ll give him a quick posting to Caribous and give him some operational experience and then we’ll send him to instructor’s course,” which they did. So that worked out
good in the end cause I enjoyed my time flying Caribous.
Seems a bit contradictory though?
Yeah, probably was at the time but that was the politics that was on, I think it was a trial, they wanted to trial these guys coming straight off pilot’s course on to instructor’s course and they really weren’t too interested in taking guys off VIP. So I guess, I guess it would’ve been a reasonably shallow
experience for, to go straight from VIP to instructor’s course without having any operational type experience, so that, yeah, it worked out in the end.
Tell me about being a captain with the Caribous?
Yeah, that was good I, Caribous are a completely different sort of experience. Like I’d gone from, from what I’d come from, Caribous are a slow, dirty
live in the bush aeroplane, whereas VIP transport was shiny, bright fast, stay in five star hotels. So I sort of got posted up here and immediately got sent out into the bush to go camping with the squadron in the dirt and the dust and play army, and I thought, “Gee this doesn’t really appeal to me very much.”
But that’s what, that’s how Caribous were, you know, we were a field deployment aeroplane and once I got used to living in the bush, it was good, cause we did some really good work. And all, lots of short range, low level, small airfields, hard night’s work and stuff like that, and it was good, it was an interesting time.
What was it like
flying low level, had you done much of that?
Not a great deal, did, you obviously do some on pilot’s course as part of your training. You do some lowish flying in the VIP world, but you may take people on a low level flight, have a look around Ayers Rock or something like that, some of the dignitaries want to have a look, but you don’t do a lot of it. You do some of it for personal fun and enjoyment,
which, you know, people used to do and still do, low fly when you’re perhaps not authorised to fly as low as what you are. But Caribous is, that’s where we live, we live down low, we fly low level and we fly into the short strips and that’s what the whole thing, that’s what the whole aeroplane’s all about. And its good at that, what its not good at is going any great distance
cause its too slow. So yeah that, there was a big change and that was good, cause its all hands on flying and its all, it makes you a much better pilot, cause you fly a lot. No auto pilot, no modern equipment, its all real basic flying, and it was good, real enjoyable experience. So when I got the opportunity to come back as an instructor, back
to Caribous, that, I jumped at it.
Were there any accidents or incidences or anything like that?
What me personally or...?
Yeah or in...
Not the first time round, I didn’t, not that I recall. There’s always, you always have a little, you know, little things that happen. You might have a taxiing accident or, you know, something like
that. But I did have a, I had a major in, that was in the last posting, that was when I was squadron leader and senior flying instructor and the whole thing up here. I ran in to some trees doing a low level training exercise, which thankfully the aeroplane flew through. Did a fair amount of damage to the wing but being a big, tough aeroplane it survived, and it was through sheer luck that we survived rather
than through anything else I guess. But it was just one of those things that happened, I can’t explain how I managed to hit the tree and neither could the board of inquiry that did the investigation on it. Other than to say that it was one of those optical illusions, that I thought I had enough room to turn, I thought the ground behind me was lower that what it was, and as I turned I just ran into it. And yeah,
thankfully the aeroplane kept going. So yeah, that wasn’t one of my better days but you get that. That’s one of the operational hazards I guess of the sort of training that we do and the sort of operations that we do. I don’t make an excuse for the, for making the mistake but that, that sometimes happens.
Its just one of those things, we’re all human beings and we’re flying close to the limits all the time and in this case we didn’t leave quite enough margin for error. I made an error and as a result we wore a couple of trees. The aeroplane survived, it got fixed, took a long time to fix it, and I test flew it after it was fixed.
How did that affect your confidence?
Ah it shook
me up a little bit, it shook me up for a little while. I was back flying, you know, within a few days of the accident. It didn’t scare me off flying or whatever, it made me a little bit more cautious about some of the things I did, but basically just continued on. You learn from your mistake and try not to make it again and make sure that nobody else that you train makes that mistake. That’s
just life. Yeah, I continued to fly for another... in fact the accident probably kept me in the air force for a bit longer. I was planning on resigning anyway, I had planned to resign at the end of the year and then I had the accident and I thought, ‘Well I can’t resign now, I don’t want to resign now because it will look like I’m resigning because I’ve had this accident.’
And that wasn’t the reason I was resigning anyway, I was gonna resign, I was going to resign anyway. So I hung around for another twelve months to keep flying, make sure that, make sure that I knew in my own heart that I wasn’t resigning cause I had an accident, I’s resigning cause I’d had enough. And I flew for another twelve months and I knew I’d had enough, and I then resigned and got out.
So when you were flying with the Caribous, did you go on any operations or was it just exercises?
No we did a bunch of things in Caribous. First tour, my first tour on Caribous was predominantly training. There was no, no real operational stuff then, there was a little bit of flood relief that we did when the New South Wales floods were on.
Did a bit of fodder dropping and stuff like that to people but nothing particularly exciting. Then I went off and did instructor’s course, when I came back the second time then, there was a few things going on. There’s, we did a lot of stuff in New Guinea, we did, we used to train a lot in New Guinea, because its a great place to fly Caribous, the place is
purpose built for Caribous, its got lots and lots of little remote airfields all around the place, like they’re everywhere, every village has got an airfield, cause you can’t get in there any other way. And they’re all built just big enough to take Caribous and the aeroplane is ideal for going into those little short sloping strips. So we used to train up there a lot and the mountainous terrain and the poor weather
and all that sort of stuff. If you can fly a Caribou in New Guinea, you can fly a Caribou anywhere in the world, and that’s why we used to train there. And on my second tour, New Guinea was in a lot of trouble with drought, and there was drought and famine all through the place and the government got a request to come and do some drought relief ops. And
Caribous got picked to do it and I got picked to run it. So I ran the operation, I flew the missions with the guys, I trained people up there to do it and we operated up there on and off for about six months, taking water and rice and flour and oil, cooking oil
to all these little remote villages all over the place and we moved a lot of stuff. And it was really, really rewarding sort of stuff to see the people so appreciative of it, that we would do that for them. And it was good to give back the country, because we’d used their country for... Caribous have been operating up there for thirty-five years, forty years and we’d been using it to train all our people for so long,
it was good to be able to give the people whose airfields we use and sometimes chew holes in and tear up if its wet and boggy and stuff, that to give them back something, and it was good, it was really enjoyable.
And how much interaction would you have with them when you’d go and do a drop?
Oh quite a bit, quite a bit, you had to, generally there’s a head person there that you liaise with.
Not always a white person, often a local, quite often a missionary type person. So you’d liaise with them, make sure that the food was going to the people in the right places and in the right proportions. Yeah, you’d always, if you ever stopped anywhere, you’d always have a thousand kids hanging around the aeroplane, always wanting to have a look inside
and do all the stuff. There are, it was a really good operation to do.
And how much did you take up, how much rice and water?
Oh I forget the exact amounts, it was over a million kilograms of total stuff that we moved, I can’t remember the exact figures, but it’d be in the archives somewhere of what
we did. But we moved a lot of stuff, lots and lots of stuff.
What’d been your impression, like you’d been up there for training you mentioned, so you were pretty familiar with the people and the landscape and the terrain?
What had been your first impressions in training up there?
That it was a big, challenging place. Like we don’t train people, we don’t take our training lightly up there. Before a guy becomes a, can fly as captain
in New Guinea, he had to do at least four trainers, four seven, four seven day intense training exercises up there. We do that for a reason, cause you make a mistake in New Guinea you’re dead. And I mentioned before a guy, an air force instructor who was flying a civilian Caribou up there and who had some bad luck, his aeroplane had an engine failure and he crashed and died and was killed. I just recently just lost
another guy that I knew up there, he was a civilian operating up there and he crashed and died. Another air force guy who was operating up there with, doing some training with the army, helping them out with some of their training, they all walked, oh they didn’t walk away but they all got out of the aeroplane, but they crashed, they made a mistake. Wrecked the, wrote the aeroplane off and were carried out of the jungle by the locals.
And we’ve lost several Caribous we’ve lost up there as well. In fact the, probably one of the worst peace time accidents Australia’s ever had would be a Caribou crash up there, and there’s twenty something people killed in a Caribou accident. Lots of PN.., they had a, PNG [Papua New Guinea] cadets in the back of the aeroplane and all but about two or three I think
were killed, all the crew was killed. And we’ve crashed a couple of others up there as well. That was the only fatality I think, if I remember correctly.
So must really put the pressure on?
Yeah we haven’t had any accidents, we haven’t had any crashes, major crashes up there for many years but in the early days there was, I mean its a dangerous place to fly, its a challenging place to fly.
So yeah, we do take our training very seriously up there. And as I said, it was good to have done that training to then be able to use that training to give the people back something, cause the conditions that were, when we first went up there to do the drought relief, the conditions were just terrible. The, cause it was so dry, everything was on fire the whole time, the whole countryside was on fire, so the smoke haze was, reduced
visibility down to next to nothing. And it was only that I’d flown up certain valleys to get to various airfields so many times that I was familiar with them, that I would be able to say, ‘Well I know that’s Anongi [?] airfield, I know that’s, cause that’s what it is, so if we go up here we should come to this next airfield, then we’ll go to this airfield, then we’ll go to there and we’ll go to there.’ So it was like flying along with a big white stick out the front of the aeroplane, just sort of prodding
your way up the valleys and making sure you could get through, but it was exciting times initially.
And how long were you on that operation for?
It lasted about six months but we’d do it in blocks, so we’d send an aircrew up there, we’d send a couple of aircrews up there for two or three weeks, then they’d come home and another couple of aircrews’d go up for two or three weeks. And towards the end, towards the end we were given a quota, so we,
we would turn up and they’d say, “That’s, that amount of gear’s gotta go to these airfields for this month,” so we would work until we’d got it all in and then we’d go home for a week or two weeks or however long before we’d go back. Yeah, it went, ran for about six months.
And what was your last trip like? Like, you know, you would’ve seen those same people?
Yeah we had a big,
the, the people of Kagi had a big celebration for us, they were one of the recipients of... oh wasn’t Kagi at all, it was Kongi, Kongi was the air
field that they had this big celebration. So we told them that we would land at a certain time, we took three aeroplanes in to this little airfield. And they had a little ceremony and they presented us with some beads and some spears and all this sort of stuff and there was all local villagers from all around the place had all turned up and they’d all made little Australian flags that they waved, and all the kids
were there, that was terrific. But the whole time it was, they wanted to have it in the afternoon, and that’s the worst time to do anything in New Guinea cause the weather closes in. So the whole time I’m sitting on there watching the clouds rolling in over the hills and going, ‘Oh we gotta get outa here,’ and course you couldn’t get up and leave half way through the ceremony. So we got there and the airfield basically fogged in and we couldn’t get out so we sat and we
waited and we waited and we waited. And we were just about to the point where we may as well start getting ready to camp the night in the back of the aeroplane cause we’re not gonna get out and this tiny little opening opened up in the clouds. And I said, “I reckon we’ll get out of there if we can get out, get airborne and we can get down into that valley we should be right, we’ll get out. And all the other crews said, “Well you go first.” “I was sort of hoping
one of you guys’d go first.” But so anyway I got airborne and as it turned out it was quite a good gap down through, so I got airborne and called the other guys to come up and they all followed me out. And we got out, out for the night which was good cause I didn’t really fancy the night, spending the night at Kagi.
Well I just don’t think it would be a very nice place to stay for the night. It would be incredibly cold for a start cause we didn’t have a lot of gear with us.
And yeah, we had a nice cosy hotel room to go back to in Madang so that’s where we wanted to go. And I don't think the local entertainment at Kagi would’ve been particularly exciting.
What was the food like that they’d, had they given you any food whilst you were...?
No, it was just a little ceremony. I don't know what they would’ve had, they probably would’ve, you know, they don’t, they have a pretty
meagre existence I think. And they wouldn’t have had spare food at the time because we were taking them food. You know, normally they grow their own vegetables and yams and that sort of thing, they just couldn’t get anything to grow up there cause they had no rain.
I’m just curious about the Australian flags that they made, did they get it right, you know, the Southern Cross and the...?
Yeah they were pretty good, they weren’t too bad, some better
than others, but yeah, they were alright, kids’d all gone to a lot of trouble. And they actually sang the national anthem, yeah the Aust... all these little New Guinea kids, they’d learned the Australian national anthem, they sang it, which was good, they got it pretty good too, they weren’t bad.
That must’ve been pretty satisfying?
It was, very satisfying, very, very, very satisfying. That was, I was really pleased to have been involved
So six months of doing that, and then what’s next?
What’s next? After we got back from that, we did such a good job they sent us to Irian Jaya, cause they were having a drought as well. So I’d no sooner got back from New Guinea, I don’t even, I think I had a little bit of time to, cause while I was away in New Guinea doing drought relief this, my house got flooded, we had flooding rains here and the house got flooded, about three inches of water through
the house. So during that time we had all the walls cut out and all the carpet taken up and we just sort of got that finished and I got called in and said next one was at Irian Jaya. And I think they gave me about three days or four days to plant it and so off we went to Irian Jaya to do a similar sort of thing.
Except this time we weren’t the main distribution aeroplane this time, we were basically the support aeroplane, cause Irian Jaya, the airfield in Irian Jaya weren’t quite set up right to take Caribous so the army got involved with Black Hawks. So the Black Hawks were doing the actual distribution of the rice and the water and stuff and we were their support aeroplane, so we would fly fuel to and from the main base up to their little forward
base. And we’d fly some supplies and we’d also be their aeroplane for administrative type stuff, to bring people backwards and forwards and do whatever. So it was, I think it lasted about another two or three months and we did that in about three or four week stints. I did the first stint for three or four weeks then another crew did three weeks, then another crew did three weeks then I did the last three or four weeks as well, so I did two stints over there doing that.
And that was good too, it was a bit different, it wasn’t, probably wasn’t as satisfying as the New Guinea thing cause we didn’t have that interaction with the actual people. We basically, we were just for the support, but it was quite good, saw another culture and a different outlook on life. And then back from that and it wasn’t too much longer, another twelve months and we’re off to East Timor.
So we kind of skipped your instructor’s course in getting to PNG, so yeah, tell us a bit about doing that?
Instructor’s course, its back to basics again. We talked earlier about, you know, you try and you work your way up to get onto pilot’s course then you’re down at the bottom, and then you graduate, and then you’re down at the bottom again and when you get onto the instructor’s course, you’re down at the bottom of the instructor pile. So,
so I went down and learned how to teach people how to fly, and in doing so you learn a lot about how to fly yourself. You learn a lot of things that you thought you knew what you were doing, but you’re actually, you really don’t know what you’re doing, and you learn how to do a lot of stuff. So that’s a three months course, three months of back to basics, you basically do pilot’s course all over again in three months,
so that you then can go over and teach the guys how to fly. And in the time of me graduating from pilot’s course and coming and doing instructor’s course we’d changed all the aeroplanes, so the CT-4 and the Macci were no more, we now only had, we had the PC-9 [Pilatus aircraft] and we taught people to fly from, straight off the street with no experience to wings standard in the one aeroplane, the PC-9, so it took a bit of getting used to too.
Yeah, through instructor’s course and over to 2FTS [No. 2 Flying Training School] to learn how to teach students how to fly.
Yeah, do they give you a really strict syllabus and... not necessarily a syllabus but more a method of teaching, like is it a fairly standardised...
approach that you take, in how you address students?
Yeah, it is, its very regimented the way air force instructors teach.
We have a syllabus and we have an instructor guide that each flight has a certain number of things that we have to achieve and we have ways of achieving them. So we may have, you know, like their first, or their first couple of flights might be, basic flight controls, so
you might teach them how to fly straight and level and turning, left and right. So you’ll demonstrate to them how, “Okay, this is the aeroplane and its straight and level, and this is the attitude, looking out the window where the horizon cuts the windscreen, that’s the attitude for straight and level flight at this speed. Do you see that?” “Yes.” “Okay, well when I hand over, I want you to maintain that attitude.” So you hand over and the aeroplane goes, ‘crr,’ all over the place. So you
do a demonstration, then you do it direct where you tell them, “No, no, bring the nose up a little bit further, no, no, lower the nose a bit,” and then, “You see that?” “Yes,” blah, blah, blah. And then there’s the next phase which is to monitor, so you do a demonstration, then you direct, tell them how to do it, while they do it, and then you sit back and watch them do it and say nothing and see if they can actually, whether they’ve actually learned how to do it. And when they can do that, then you progress on to the next thing, so once they’ve learned how to do straight and level, then you’ll teach them how to
do level turns, then you’ll teach them how to do climbing and descending, and then you’ll teach them how to do climbing turns and descending turns, then you progress through that. And each time they get in the aeroplane, each time you go back, make sure they know what they learned last flight and then teach them the new stuff, and build it altogether until they can do the whole lot.
And how did you find your instructing style?
I don't know,
I guess I was successful, I had a few guys that I had that graduated. I don't think I had any big problems with anybody, I don't think anybody had any great problems with me. And I enjoyed it, I liked it. I used to like doing a few other things as well, I was a,
I was a maintenance test pilot over there as well, so that was good. When the aircraft came out of maintenance, if it needed a test flight for something, I could jump in it and go and do the test flight, and I could do that by myself without, so I didn’t have to take a student with me. And so you had a little break away from having to teach all the time, you actually got to go and do some stuff. And that was rewarding cause I used to find it a little bit,
a little bit frustrating at times that if you couldn’t get through to the student that you’d fly for an hour, hour and a half and get on the ground, you go, “Well we haven’t achieved very much, we haven’t really progressed very far.” I had one poor student who, if he ever sees this, he’ll know who I’m talking about, but he was hopeless, he was never ever gonna be a pilot, no matter what I did to try and teach him, he had no
idea, no idea at all. And eventually I had to, I was only a fairly junior instructor at the time and I thought, ‘I’m not getting through to this guy, I’ll give him to one of the more senior instructors.’ So I talked to one of the guys and said, “Look can you have a go with this guy cause I can’t get through to him, he’s got no idea.” So off he went with him, come back, and he said, “What have you been teaching him?” I said, “I don't know, what’d he do?”
And he told me that this guy had done something completely, completely stupid. And I said, “Well I didn’t teach him that.” And he said, “No, I know you didn’t, but that’s what he thought you wanted him to do.” And I just went, “Oh, if that’s what he thought, he’s got no hope.” He said, “No, you’re right there,” he said, “he’s never gonna do anything.” So I think he only lasted about half a dozen rides, ten rides, and we got rid of him, which
was a shame cause he was a hell of a nice kid, just had no idea, had no idea at all, and was never ever gonna learn, so unfortunate for him but. But you find it frustrating if you can’t get through to a guy, but sometimes you just have to say, “Well, I can’t do anything more than I’m doing, I’ve done everything as I was supposed to do it and I just can’t get through to him.” And as a junior instructor that happens fairly regularly
because you really don’t know, although you have all the theory on how to teach guys, you yourself are still learning, you’re still keeping, catching up with the aeroplane. You’re still flying the aircraft and you’re not that comfortable with it and the guy in the front, you’re busy flying yourself, you haven’t got a lot of time to see what he’s up to. As time progressed over there, you become far more
relaxed with the aeroplane, you can fly it a lot better than you could when you first got there, you got a lot more time to actually look at things, cause in the PC-9 you sit behind the guy so all you can see of him is the back of the ejection seat and a little bit of his head. But as time goes on you can learn a lot by watching that guy’s head, so you can see where he’s looking and why, why if he’s in a turn,
to turn onto finals, if he’s, keeps turning inside and not lining up properly, you just watch his head and you go, “You’re not looking at the right thing, you’re looking in the wrong place.” “Oh, so I am.” You know, “You should be looking out the front now, not down there, that’s why the aeroplane’s doing this.” So as you get more experienced it becomes a lot easier. But you know, everybody has to learn, so I guess there’s probably a few students that copped bad instructors
for their first couple of rides that maybe, or copped inexperienced instructors for their first few rides who probably could get a better start in life, but we try and mix ‘em up so you don’t exclusively fly with the same instructor every day. So I found that, I found it, initially, at the start very difficult as an instructor, but towards the end as I became more,
more comfortable with the aeroplane I found it a lot easier. And I enjoyed it, it was good to get some of these kids and teach them how to fly. Then going to back to then leave from 2FTS as an instructor and going back to Caribous to fly as a Caribou instructor, then it was a lot easier cause I already, I knew how to fly the Caribou. And now
I knew how to teach, and the Caribou was a lot easier to teach people cause you sat side by side in it, so you could actually sit there and look at him, and you could see his eyes, you could see where his eyes were looking and where his hands were moving. And if he wasn’t looking at the right place you just reach over and grab his head and move it around so it was a lot easier to teach him that the PC-9 was.
Okay, we’re at the end of another tape.
Interviewee: Warren Schmitt Archive ID 2402 Tape 05
I was just interested just to know, New Guinea was under a drought, so what’d the land look like from the air?
Very barren, very dry, brown and mostly on fire. They’d burned a lot of the ground off waiting or hoping that the rains would come and it hadn’t worked, so everything was as
dry as dry. Very unusual for New Guinea, they hadn’t had any wet season at all, so yeah, quite unusual.
Was this the El Nino time?
I don't know, it was in 19-, must’ve been 1998, no 1997, October ‘97 through ‘til February sort of ‘98.
And you mentioned that the smoke caused some problems for
And would you fly on your instruments a lot in this conditions?
You fly a lot on instruments. New Guinea’s a funny place to fly because there’s no real visual horizon anyway, the, with the mountainous terrain, its very hard to pick where the horizon is, so you do a lot of cross-reference to your instruments anyway. But it’s a combination of visual flying outside, looking where you’re going
and also concentrating on your instrument scan as well, so yeah. Not, you’re never really fully in instrument conditions but you’re not really in visual conditions either. And it was good, cause at the time we were about the only ones flying up there, all the civilian operators had stopped flying cause the weather conditions were so poor.
Well yeah, considering this, the weather conditions...
Oh, the smoke haze.
I was just seeing if there was cloud at that time coming in.
No, not a lot.
And so considering this, what were some of the closest calls that you had during that time?
I wouldn’t say we had any close calls, we did have a couple of guys, a couple of guys did, I mean, there is always cloud rolls in, in New Guinea. There is always the danger of getting stuck somewhere, so we did have a few guys give ‘emselves a few little frights,
you know, getting caught in valleys with cloud descending in on them and having to spiral their way up out over the top to get out and running the risk of getting stuck, but we never had any majors, nothing that we couldn’t handle up there anyway.
So take off and landing in amongst smoke, was that...?
No, not a biggie, not a biggie. We did have, we had one heavy landing at a,
at a little place called Anongi, but again it was just one of those sort of operational hazards. The aeroplane was fine, just impacted the ground a bit harder than we would’ve liked.
What was one of the most unusual kind of landing strips?
Probably, oh there’s heaps of them up there but Anongi is probably one of the strangest, one of the strangest we operated too on that particular operation. Its,
oh from memory its about five and a half thousand feet above sea level elevation, its got a very high, steep slope on it, and its only, its about fifteen hundred feet long, very short airfield, so five hundred metres long, and its got a bend in the middle of it. So its quite a challenging strip, not
somewhere that we’d go all the time and its very rough as well. But they were, at Anongi, they were having to walk from where they are up on the top of the ridge line right down into the bottom of the valley to get any water, cause they had no water up where they were, they had, normally they would store water from rain water and stuff. But they had no rain so they were walking all the way down to the bottom of the hill to get water and then hand carting it back up the hill. And so they probably
expending more fluid walking up and down the hill than what they were doing carrying it all the way back, but that’s what they chose to do. And that was, you know, the same story in a couple of places we went, there was another place we went, when we landed there the only people that came out, and normally the whole village comes out, but the only people who came out were women and small children. And I said, “Where are all the men?” And
through a lady that spoke a little bit of English, and I speak a little bit of pidgin [pidgin English], so we managed to communicate a little bit. And she said, “All the men have gone down, they’ve walked to the coast,” which was a day walk, to the coast because they’d heard that a barge was coming to the coast to bring them food. And sure enough two, couple of days later when we were putting in the last lot of stuff in there, all the men came wandering back and they had managed to gather some food while they were
on their way. But by the time they got back there was a mountain of food that we delivered for them, so they had a two-day walk for a bit of exercise. But you know, they were happy.
Yeah, how did they react to this mound of food?
Oh they were pretty happy, oh yeah, they were always very appreciative up there. Even though they don’t have much they’re always happy and they’re
always happy to see us. They always turn out to the airfields, entertainment for them to watch aeroplanes coming and going, yeah.
What do they do, smile or talk or...?
They smile and wave and laugh and giggle and the kids laugh and chuckle and carry on, if you wave at ‘em they all carry on. Yeah, very friendly, happy little nation they are.
Yeah, I was gonna ask too about what kind of impressions of the lifestyle did you get of the
Oh its a, it’d be a pretty tough life, I mean they don’t, they live a very subsistent sort of existence, but they live a happy life. They’re, I don't know that they would be a particularly long lived race of people because their health standards and their hygiene standards and all that sort of stuff would be considered sort of third world. But they’re happy,
It must give you in some ways a bit of a sense of privilege of getting to these places being in your position of the air force in a way?
A lot of people pay a lot of money to go to some of the places I got to go for free, so yeah, that was good.
And the things like Irian Jaya, many people don’t get to Irian Jaya?
Not many people go to Irian Jaya, no.
Were there any issues with the, you know, that being a part of Indonesia with the operation?
Yeah, there was a little bit of, there was a lot of
a lot of politics that went into it before we went, which we weren’t privy to, but there had to be a lot of shoring up of relationships, because we were basically going in there to help the local Irianjay.., Irianese people. And the Indonesians who had annexed the country years ago, they didn’t seem to think it was a big problem that those people up in the hills were starving.
And, I mean, they had resources, they had aeroplanes, they had helicopters they could’ve done the drought relief themselves but they chose not to. So we did, and that perhaps caused some animosity, but at a local level, at sort of our level, we didn’t have a great lot of problem with them, we were always sort of quite friendly with them. But they were also, they were
also doing what they always do, there’s a lot of intelligence gathering going on, checking out aeroplanes, checking out who we were, what pilots were there, what aircrew were there, yeah they would’ve built up a bit of a file on us I suspect.
So how did they do this intelligence gathering, is it as obvious as a note pad and...?
Sometimes it is, sometimes it is. When we arrived at the hotel we were staying at, there was a vehicle
which had followed us all around the place and had camera lenses, you know, sort of this long poking out taking photos of us and what have you. And the drivers that drove us around the place, whilst they said they don’t speak any English, if we were telling jokes and stuff, you’d see that they’d have a little chuckle when you’d tell the joke, so they obviously spoke some English and were there listening to our conversations to find out what we were doing and what we were getting up to.
Cause at the time there was still, there’s still a lot of border fighting and stuff going on with the, between the Indonesians and the true Papuans, trying to cross the border backwards and forwards to New Guinea. And yeah, there is still a lot of people up there getting shot at and probably getting shot, yeah.
Well did you receive
briefings about how to handle the Indonesians or anything of this order?
Yeah to a certain extent we did. We got, we’d get, we obviously have intelligence briefings and security briefings. And we do a similar sort of thing to what they do, we intelligence gather and look while we’re out and about as well. So I mean every nation does it, when you’re visiting somebody else’s country, you to check out who’s there
and what they’ve got and what they’re up to. And just, we don’t actively go out and, you don’t James Bond yourself around the place, but if you happen to see something going on well you make a note of it and keep a track of what’s going on. So we were up there doing our job and whatever else we could get out of it was good. And we had intelligence officers with us as well, so it would be fair to assume that the Indonesians had intelligence officers following us around, same as we had intelligence officers on our,
on our deployment. So yeah, no different.
Any use of cameras by either side?
Not that you’d sorta blatantly notice. Other than that, other than the car with the camera lens poking out when we first arrived, but no, nothing overt.
And you answered this kind of before but why do you think Indonesians kind of
would let Australia come in and do that job?
I don't know that there was so much that they let us, I guess they, the Australians offered help and I guess since we offered it that they decided that they would let us come. Yeah, they didn’t seem too concerned themselves that anything was particularly bad. But
there were a lot of villages that were in trouble.
Well did any of the local Papuans who live in Irian Jaya, did they talk to you ever about the Indonesian invasion or anything of this order?
Yeah there’s, there was, while we were over there, there was a few up, a few riots that went on because during the period we were there was actually when they’d had a, it was the anniversary I think of the,
of the annexing of their country. So there was a riot in Jayapura, you know, with rubber bullets fired and all that sort of stuff, university students, you know, waving banners and placards and the Indonesian police coming him with the batons and rifles and the rubber bullets, and that was just a way of life for them. And there was, there was an incident in the hotel we were staying at
where one of the local Irian, local true Papuans who had been on this particular independence drive and got drunk and came in and made a bit of a scene in the hotel, trying to get us to support him and, you know, while we’re here, why can’t we throw the Indonesians out while the military, Australian military’s here but, yeah,
just usual sort of drunk thing. He was fairly quickly carted off by some Indonesian policemen and whatever happened to him, I don't know, but I suspect it wouldn’t have been very pleasant.
Would you ever socialise with the Indonesians? Did you ever socialise with the Indonesians at all?
Oh the Indonesian military you mean?
Not, I wouldn’t say socialise. I mean you are cordial with them, we got invited to a couple of
social functions of sorts, you know, like at dinners and stuff like that with them. But we didn’t, I wouldn’t say that we were, you know, go out to the pub and have a few beers. If we were invited to a function we went, if we were working, you know, we were using their facilities, we were working there and they said hello, we said hello and we’d have a cup of tea or coffee or whatever with them. But to say we’d socialise with them, I’d say no,
Yeah, okay, that kind of answered that. So, also what would, say, just take us through, I know every day was probably different but say roughly, like a typical day up there in Irian Jaya?
A typical day in Irian Jaya? Because Irian Jaya is, you know, tropical mountainous sort of area, you’ve gotta get your work done early because the weather tends to close in, again, in the afternoon. So a typical day would be, you know, up and out of the aeroplane sort of seven or eight o'clock in the morning,
get it ready to fly, couple of trips up to Vanimo which was only, its only an hour each way sort of flight. Do a couple of trips up there, by sort of lunch-time, one o'clock, and then if the weather was still good and there was still work to do, you’d do another run. If there was no more work to do or the weather started to close in then that was it for the day, pack the aeroplane up, do what ever else you had to do then put it to bed and back to the hotel.
That was sort of our daily routine, we did that every day, and when we worked sort of six or seven days a week.
And how long, all up, including, I guess, New Guinea and Irian Jaya were you on this kind of drought relief , humanitarian operations?
On and off it would’ve run for the better part of nine months I guess. But yeah, usually in stints of two or three weeks. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks and then back home for a week or two and then off again.
How’s this on your family, like having to go away every...?
Oh Fiona coped pretty well with it. And because it was, cause the duration was only reasonably short, she coped with it pretty well. I mean ever since we’ve been married I’ve been, you know, up and off at the drop of a hat everywhere, so she’s sort of used to it. The family sort of coped with it reasonably well. The,
when the house got flooded that was a bit of a stressful time for her but the squadron here, the people that were left behind, they helped out, they looked after her pretty well, so yeah, she coped.
Alright and you received the CSC [Conspicuous Service Cross] medal?
Yeah, tell us about that.
After New Guinea and Irian Jaya had finished I,
I received word that I’d been nominated for and had been awarded a conspicuous service cross for the operations and the way I ran the thing, the way I ran the operation and the leadership that I sort of put into it. Which was good for, I mean for a personal level, I’m very proud of it, but from an operational level, the
squadron and the people that I worked with and that we were recognised. Sure, they gave me the medal but I think the medal goes to the squadron more than anything else, so that our, my peers recognised that what we did was something special, that that was very rewarding, from my personal viewpoint, yeah.
And there was a ceremony of sorts?
the Governor of Queensland came up and we had a little medal ceremony in town one night. And my mum and dad came up for it and my wife was there and a couple of friends, we all went in and they pinned the medal on my chest and we had a celebration, yeah, that was good.
Excellent. Yeah okay, I just, one question also about your leadership role. What was some of the extra tasks that you had to take on board, apart from flying the craft and...?
Apart from flying it?
Yeah, in this role of leadership?
Okay I also, I planned who went, I checked each captain before the flight to make sure that they were, you know, up to speed with the flying. I authorised all the tasks, all the trips that went. I basically had the say on whether we did or didn’t do something, what we could and
couldn’t achieve, how we would achieve it, how many aeroplanes we’d take, how we’d do the maintenance rotation, how we would physically go about loading the aeroplanes and unloading them. Who I wanted up there, as in what maintenance, what logistics support we had. And the thing just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Once we’d started
it was like a snow ball effect, once we were starting to do drought relief to one little area, somebody else would put their hand up, ‘Can we have some drought relief? Can we have some drought relief?’ So it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. Eventually towards the end of it, not only were Caribous involved but Black Hawk helicopters had been dragged into it and Chinook helicopters had been dragged into the drought relief, so it turned out to be a very, very big operation to
move things, but the Caribous started it.
Well how many were there?
How many Caribous?
We had anything up to four aeroplanes operating up there at one time. Four aeroplanes and five or six crews and probably another eight or ten support people I guess at any one time.
And it just drew to a natural close
We, towards the end of the operation they did start to get some rain, the drought had started to break and towards the end, instead of actually taking you know, rice and flour and stuff, we were actually taking in seed potatoes and grain that they could plant to grow, so
it sort of came to a natural end. They got rain and the drought started to break and things started to grow again so they were pretty right.
Well that sounds like a great operation.
Kylie [Interviewer] already talked to you about some of the local celebrations of appreciation, so I’ll move on then. And so after that there was a lead up to East Timor but what was the, what were you doing in the period after that?
It was back to business as usual, catching up
on all the things that we couldn’t do while we were doing drought relief. Cause again, those sorts of operations, drought relief and... that’s only one very narrow aspect of what Caribou operations is all about. So while you’re tied up doing that you can’t do all the other things that you need to be able to do, so we had to catch up on a lot of, a lot of our other ongoing training that we didn’t have a chance
to do. So we were back into that, trying to get all that done. All the flying that we’d done up there took a fair chunk of maintenance time out of the aeroplanes, so all the maintenance staggers were all sort of shot to pieces we had to try and get them back right again. So it was basically a catch up period, to try and get everything back,
but back to business as usual, back to flying with the army. Moving army personnel from point A to point B, operating on exercises, night vision goggle training, all the stuff that we didn’t do while we were over there.
Gosh, so in that leadership role you’d done all that planning and you’d done some, the flying, and now you’re back doing catch up. Busy period?
Mmm it was, it was very busy.
I didn’t have a lot of spare time, no, so.
Was that stressful being so busy?
Oh yeah but you just, you just get over it and do it, you just have a job to do and you do it, so. So, was it stressful? No, I wouldn’t say it was stressful. Was it tiring, yes, but it wasn’t stressful, it was one of those things that you just had to do and you just did it.
alright we’ll lead you into East Timor, tell us what you thought when you saw, you know, before the commitment, but you saw like some of the events going on, say, on television?
It was a worrying time for everybody when that was going on and we knew that there was a good chance that we would be involved in going over there, we’d been receiving, we’d been receiving intelligence updates on East Timor for months before the events.
And in fact probably oh, two months I guess before the, before we actually deployed into East Timor, we had aeroplanes sitting around the country on stand by ready to go. In fact we had a crew in Darwin, we had two crews in Darwin sitting up there waiting to launch in. It took so long for the politics to occur that those crews that were sitting in Darwin who were going
to be our lead crews to go in, basically had time expired up there. So we had to change them over, so my number came up again and it was, ‘Okay, off you go, you go, you plan it, get everything ready to, get your crews ready to go in when the time comes.’ So we went up to Darwin, we were up Darwin for a couple of weeks I guess just sitting,
waiting for the call to go in. And of course the Hercules aircraft was up there, were up in Darwin as well because they would be the main transport aircraft to take all the troops that were going in, in. And we also had, we had ships, you know, floating around in Darwin as well waiting to go in. So when the call finally came to go, the Hercules took all our troops in,
and we waited, I mean we weren’t much good at moving big numbers of people over that distance, we were too slow and couldn’t carry enough. So we just sat and waited until they had us, an airfield secure, somewhere that we could put an aeroplane and base it, and about, probably ten or twelve days I guess after the first troops went in, we got the call,
‘Okay launch.’ So initially it was two aeroplanes, we took two aircraft, I led the first one with one of my other crews in the other aeroplane. A very small, very small group, we had six pilots and three flight engineers, so two, three basic crews and we
only took six maintenance people with us, and that was it. And we launched in there with that very minimal amount of people, got ourselves set up at Dili and course there was a heap of other units on the ground there at Dili so we sort of plugged in to some of their assets as well. But we were pretty much self sufficient for the
first couple of weeks that we went in. And then, oh we took us about two or three days to get ourselves on the ground, get ourselves sorted out, and then we started operating around the country. We did a bit of reconnaissance around for a few airfields to make sure they were suitable for our operations, and then we started and we just started working around the place.
What briefings had you received for before you left?
Oh we were getting briefed every day. Every day on,
on the political situation, the, you know, how many people they thought were displaced internally in the country. What, you know, what sort of things we could expect with militia running around the place, and whether or not it was Indonesian military that were causing the problems and, you know, and a whole gamut, weather conditions, airfield conditions, the whole,
the whole gamut of things that we could do. Yeah so we were pretty well prepared for what we would encounter when we got there.
Was there any, you know, sad goodbyes or was it tough to leave your family to go?
Wasn’t so much tough, I mean, I’d been gone for two weeks, by the time I actually left. It was a bit hard I guess, this one was probably the hardest one with Fiona because
there was such a degree of doubt as to what we were going to, nobody really knew what we were going into. And I really couldn’t tell her too much cause, (a) I didn’t know and, (b) what I did know was classified so I couldn’t tell her. So I had to sort of say, “Look, don’t worry, I’ll talk to you when I can talk to you and I’ll be alright.” So, that was about it, the,
it was farewell on my phone call at Darwin, nine o'clock in the morning and I was in the aeroplane and gone, and that was the farewell.
Still you can understand there’s a lot of images of these truck loads of militia on the television.
What was it like seeing those images and knowing you were going there?
That, it was, I guess it was, it was a little bit worrying I guess that,
cause we didn’t really know what to expect. The militia we didn’t, we didn’t consider the militia to be a huge problem, we didn’t think the militia were ever going to sort of rise up and defeat or fight against, you know, us, we had a couple, we had several thousand people over there. What was more of a worry was that the Indonesian military were still on the ground there and we, we
really didn’t know what to expect from the Indonesian military. And I think Cosgrove made a pretty brave thing that he did when the first deployment was due to go in. He actually flew in the day before in a VIP jet and he just landed at Dili and he walked over to the commander of the Indonesian forces and said, “I’m bringing in my troops tomorrow.” And they said, “Okay,” and that’s, that’s basically how
it went, and the next day the Hercules started rolling in, and we didn’t really know. So, you know, you put a bunch of young people, you know, our guys were well trained but they’re all running around with live weapons in their hands all fully armed, fully loaded, with live bullets, and that puts a bit of a different light on things, you know. You can do a lot of exercises, training
with blanks and then when you actually get somewhere and you got real live bullets in it, it makes it a little bit different. And when you’re sitting here and across the road from you are, you know, Indonesian military who are also sitting there with real live bullets, who probably aren’t all that pleased with the fact that the Australian Army and Air Force are sitting in what used to be their country and they’re about to get the shove out the door, you think,
‘Yeah, you know, probably not, its probably a fairly tense situation,’ and it did get a bit tense at times. And there’s lots of the buildings that’d been destroyed by the militia or the military or the police or whoever did the damage, you know, that had graffiti on walls, you know, being quite
derogatory about Australians and what they were gonna do to us and how they were gonna defeat us and all this sort of stuff scrawled all over walls. And you think, ‘Yeah, if it ever came to a shooting match it would be very unpleasant,’ but it never came to that between us. The army on the border, you know, had some sporadic fighting with militia but around Dili and where we were, it was pretty good.
With these, with this graffiti, what kind of derogatory remarks were made about Australians?
I don't know, just the sorts of stuff, you know, ‘Get out of our country,’ you know, ‘We’ll kill your mother and rape your sister,’ and all that. You know, the usual sorts of stuff that people would write on graffiti if you were coming in to their country, so, yeah.
Well what were your first impressions of Dili as you arrived?
Probably what a waste, what a complete, completely devastating waste of a country and how could people do that to their own people. You know, the whole place was on fire, the whole country was on fire and hardly a building had been spared from either being burned or knocked down or whatever. God knows how many people had been killed, I don't think they’ll ever
really know how many people got killed. And there, how many people were displaced out of their homes and pushed across the border into West Irian, ah, into West Timor. And how many people from West, those East Timorese who were displaced into West Timor never came back, you know, I don't think we’ll ever really know how many there were. But
but they just devastated the whole, the whole place was just a total, total mess.
Could you see any evidence, see the evidence of this kind of, not just the mess and the looting and the destruction but of the murders?
As time went on we got to talk to people who told us, you know, that people had been murdered and that, you know, that there were bodies thrown down wells and things like that. But,
and we did have the odd task to do, you know, like they had forensic people, army forensic people were out digging up bodies and on occasion Caribous would transport those body bags back to Dili. So, you know, certainly we did have some contact with it, we didn’t, I didn’t ever see dead bodies, you know, out in the open but certainly in body bags we
What’s it like doing this kind of job, transporting dead bodies?
You don’t really give it much of a thought, you think how sad for the people that are in the bags but its just another job, another task for you to do, not a pleasant one but a job. The hardest ones to carry were the actual suspected militia that had been captured and were being bought back to Dili for questioning.
And quite often they would be quite badly beaten up, those people, you know, like beaten up beyond recognition. That, you know, they’d been caught by the local people, were recognised as being militia and had been beaten senseless, and had to be taken back for treatment or whatever, so that was hard. You know, I don't think,
I don't think the East Timorese people had a lot to start with, you know, again its a pretty much, its a third world country, but what they did have they obviously enjoyed and what they were left with was nothing, absolutely nothing, so all those hard things that they had to live with before, became a hell of a lot harder. And we carted a lot of, you know, very sick people, a lot of sick children,
carried them back for medical treatment and took people back to their families who’d been displaced and lots of good rewarding stuff as well, but lots of really sad stuff too.
Was there a kind of atmosphere you could gather from people’s faces or anything when you first arrived in East Timor that...?
They were pleased just that, you know, salvation had come, that
somebody was there to help them and that all this mindless burning and violence and stuff was going to stop. They were still scared though, they were scared that there was, that what the Australians was gonna offer them would be no better than what the Indonesians was gonna offer them. Cause the Indonesian, you know, the militia had told them that we would come and, you know, and take over their life and rape them and all,
the sort of propaganda that people do. So they were scared but they came around and eventually they were, you know they were a really nice, they’re a really nice nation of people as well, they’re nice friendly, you know, little kids are happy. And as time went on and, you know, we would build things for them and buy things for them and you know, do up their kindergartens and their schools and,
and the kids’d follow you around and you’d throw ‘em the lollies our of your ration packs. And that could be a double edged sword cause you’d have a thousand of them chasing you around looking for your lollies out of your ration packs. But yeah they were a, they were really a friendly nation and pleased to be getting the help that they were getting. And I hope now that they’ve had that, that the nation goes on and expands and becomes what it
could be, you know, its just a fantastic, a fantastic country.
Was there also a sadness on a lot of people’s faces when you first arrived?
I guess they were, there was a lot of people sort of sad, moping around. But more I think, I think more so, more
so happy that the time had come, they were gonna get their independence and that somebody would, had come to stop what was going on.
Alrighty, we got to the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Warren Schmitt Archive ID 2402 Tape 06
We’ll just go back to when you landed at Dili, can you tell me, you know, what you saw, the media there?
No their place, it was, the place was very busy, as you can imagine there’s still I don't know how many Hercules movements a day going in and out. So basically there was nothing other than
we land, we got told where to park, we parked and then we started going about our business, just getting things in shape. So no, no real fanfares or anything of us arriving, it was just get on the ground and get on with your job, and that’s what we did.
Did you see much media whilst you were there?
I really don’t recall seeing media there.
No, I don’t really recall a lot of, seeing a lot of media over there. I was probably too focused on what I was doing to worry about what everybody else was doing.
So was, did you have to set up a base for yourself?
There was already what they call an expeditionary combat support squadron, they’d gone in initially to set the airfield up. So they’d set up
air traffic control services and, you know, basic water and a real basic sort of camp facilities, they’d set that up. But for us, we arrived and were told, ‘That’s your area there that you can camp in,’ and we went in pretty much self sufficient, so we had our own tents.
We set up our tents, we got some ration packs off ‘em. We said, “Give us some rations, give us some water, give us fuel, give us oil, give us oxygen, give us whatever we need for the aeroplanes, and after that we’ll, we’re self sufficient.” And that’s how the operation ran.
What’s in your camping kit?
What do we carry? We carry pretty much everything,
everything we need. The whole idea of the expeditionary combat support squadron was that we should’ve just been able to turn up and jump into one of their tents and use their showers and use their facilities, but they had to go in pretty light as well, so they didn’t have a lot of excess other than their own, their own support gear. So we’d taken a lot of our own gear with us, so we’d taken our own shower
buckets, we’d taken our own personal tents to sleep in, our own sleeping bags, stretchers. Our own, you know, knives, forks, spoons, cups, plates, that’s, all that sort of gear. Obviously we’d taken enough water for a couple of days for ourselves, then after that was the job of the combat support squadron to look
after us, which they tried to do but they just... It was the first time really that a combat support squadron had been tested in a real deployment and from my perspective they struggled a little bit. They did their best but...
How did they struggle?
They just didn’t have enough gear with them to do it, I mean all the... and the Hercules aircraft that had to transport all the gear were packed, they were packed out with people,
with ammunition, with... I mean the amount of ammu... we could’ve taken over half of the world I think, the amount of ammunition we took over there, just in case. But all that stuff had to go and that was a higher priority, a higher priority than, you know, additional tents. You take a minimum number of tents, make do with them, we’ll bring over the other stuff later. And later never came, later there was always higher priority stuff.
Which made life a bit hard especially for us, you know, because we, we’re trying to get stuff in to do our job and they’re saying, “Well you can’t have it, there’s higher priority things to come in.” And sometimes it was a bit silly because some of that higher priority stuff would arrive to be transported somewhere, and we’d be the ones who would be responsible for transporting it but we couldn’t transport it because they hadn’t sent us a,
a particular part or a piece of equipment that we needed. So they’ve said, “No, priority, this is the priority piece of equipment that’s gotta go.” So it turns up and we say, “Well we can’t fly it because the piece of equipment that you left behind is the part we need to fix the aeroplane. So bring us the part to fix the aeroplane and then we’ll take your part, your piece of equipment that you want transported down to wherever, we’ll then take that.”
That seems like pretty bad organisation?
It was one of those, it was a real teething,
teething problem at the start, because we had, we had us and we had the army and we had all the two logistics systems trying to plug into each other, trying to work together and they just couldn’t work together. So whoever had the biggest presence in the logistics cell, which was generally army, would get what they want before
anybody else would get what they want. And if you were only a little unit like us, like little Caribou unit tucked away in the corner somewhere, you sort of got forgotten about. So it required a fair bit of jumping up and down and yelling and screaming, whatever, before we got it sorted out. But we got it sorted out, took a while, but we got it sorted out.
What were the main things that you were missing?
As I recall oxygen was
a real hard thing to get, cause the aeroplane has oxygen cylinders on board and we would sometimes have to use it to, if we were flying above ten thousand feet, we would go onto oxygen. We rarely did but we would need it, so if we’d try and order an oxygen cylinder, they’d say, “Well, what do you need that for?” “Cause we need it.” “Well helicopters don’t use it.” Cause, I mean,
its hard for somebody who’s not in the, in an air force logistics chain to understand that without that the aeroplane doesn’t work. So to try and convince them of that was sometimes quite difficult. And the two systems are different, the army system of allocating priority things is different to the air force system of allocating priority things. So we would say, “We need it, we need it
now!” But that, in the army, equates to, ‘You need it sometime in the next week.’ Whereas when the army says, “We need it now,” they mean, like, ‘We need it sometime this week.’ So, ‘We need it two days ago,’ that means they need it in three day’s time. So the two logistics systems just never sort of plugged in to one another, and it took quite a while to figure that stuff out. And eventually we ended up short cutting the system and going outside anyway to get the bits and pieces we wanted.
What do you mean,
Oh we would often use the buddy network, so if we needed a small part I’d just ring up one of my mates who was in Darwin and say, “Grab this part, give it to this Herc [Hercules] captain who’ll be flying in tomorrow, give it to him and he’ll give it to me.” Or, “Take it over and give it to Joe Bloggs who’s getting on this flight to come in and he’ll give it to me.” And stuff would turn up that way. Which wasn’t,
there wasn’t the way things should be done but sometimes you had no choice but to do it that way. And we did, and we got the job done.
Were there any consequences from that, you know, lack of organise... or that logistical problems?
Obviously after anything like that there’s a big re-learning phase, so reports go in regularly. And as
as the system, within a month or two of getting there the system had worked itself out, so that things were happening and things, and things happened properly. So, you know, it was a matter of us putting an air force logistics person in to the chain to look after air force logistics, and once we’d done that, then you had very little problem after that. But before that, when we first got there, everybody had their priority, everybody tried
to get what they wanted done and they, there was just a little bit too individualistic. Having said that, the job got done, it got done well but, you know, from sitting down where I was, saying, “I really need this now, I don’t really want to wait four or five days for it,” that just got a little bit frustrating. But at the end of the day, big scheme of things, it all worked.
Okay, would you be able
to talk me through the role of the Caribous up there?
The Caribou was a general, a general taxi fleet aeroplane if you like. We would fly, there was half a dozen airfields I guess that we could operate into, over there, there was five airfields we could operate into. There’s Dili, Suai, Maliana, Baucau
and Los Palos, they were on, all on the mainland. And then later on another airfield become available down at a little enclave called Oecussi that we used to operate into. And we would just, we would fly to any of those places that we were tasked to go to and take whatever was needed to go into there. Because Suai, Suai wasn’t
Hercules capable, so they couldn’t take a Herc [Hercules] in there, although they tried a couple of times, they decided it wasn’t suitable. So the only way of getting stuff into Suai was either by helicopter or by us. The Italians had a G-222 [transport aircraft] operating there for a little while but it didn’t prove to be too successful either. So yeah, that was our role
was go there, and we would carry anything from fuel to people to militia to water, rations, tents, anything. And yeah, we did it day or night depending on what the requirement was. Didn’t do a lot of night work but we did some.
Alright well maybe we could go into a bit more detail on some of the flights that you did do?
We did lots, we did a lot of ‘em. There was a few, there was one memorable one that we did which was, we did a big leaflet drop along the border, so we took thousands and thousands of these leaflets, asking
all the displaced persons to come back, and any militia to hand in your weapons and come back and, you know, as long as you hand in your weapons and come back you won’t be, you won’t be punished. So we had to fly along the border to do that, we were under fairly strict guide lines as to where we could and couldn’t fly. And the Indonesians were,
were I think pretty serious that if we infringed into Indonesian air space that they would shoot us. So we had to sort of fly along the border fairly carefully and not infringe into it, and hope like hell that nobody shot at us. I don't think anybody did, we didn’t get any holes in the aeroplanes, but that was the only time, that was the only time over there that I was
sort of concerned that somebody might shoot at me. In fact that was the only time we flew with our flak jackets on, that was the only mission that we flew with our flak jackets on. Then we decided that was just unbearable so we sat on them instead, just in case somebody shot at us from below, yeah.
Why is it unbearable?
Cause they’re just not built for flying in, there’s just not enough room
in the aeroplane to wear your flak jacket and fly, so they’re a ground combat vest, they’re not designed for flying in. You can’t get full control movement with your flak jacket on, even with the seat right back, so we decided that was a waste of time. But yeah that’s the, I mean, that’s the only armour that the aeroplane’s got. Used to have armour in it when it was first built, there was the option for armour but that armour’s
been lost over the years somewhere, nobody really knows where it is.
And what kind of relationships did you have with your ground crew?
We had a great relationship, we always have. Caribous, the Caribou world has always had a very close rapport between the aircrew and ground crew. We integrate together because we always live together and we operate together, and its gotta be a close-knit environment. So
yeah we were very close, we slept in an area, you know, ten of us in an area as big as this room, in tents. And that, airmen and officers, aircrew and whatever all mucked in together, that was just the way it was. And yeah, there
was no problems.
And did many locals kind of come anywhere near the base at all or the airstrip at all?
No they were fenced out. No, it was very much, it was set up like an air force base so if you’re not needed on the base you don’t come on it, so go away. And that was how it was. As time went on, you know, after the UN [United Nations] took control and whatever, then there was a lot more civilians around the place
and the security situation freed up a bit. But in the initial stages when it was INTERFET [International Force in East Timor], then no, it was a military operation, and if you went in, didn’t need to be there, then you didn’t go.
So then did you have a lot of, or any contact with locals?
Not a great lot. We, I mean we drove, obviously we had to drive around the place on occasions from the base into town to the head quarters and around the place,
so you’d see the locals and you’d wave at ‘em and they’d wave back, and so you had that sort of interface, but to actually sit down with them, no, not really. Later on, later on down the track, after, again after the UN took over and the security situation freed up, where you could actually get out into some of the villages then yeah, we did. We did go out and we’d talk to some of the locals and
you know, got a bit more close with ‘em but we didn’t sorta, didn’t get right up and have ‘em, you know, with us.
What about contacts with the troops as you’re kind of dropping them off and moving them around the place?
Yeah, you’d talk to them, you know, on occasion as you go in and out. See how they’re going down where they are and...
And yeah, but I mean like, to sit and relate stories to each other, you don’t, that’s not sort of what we do, you just, you get on with your job and you do it. And at the end of the day you go back home and go to bed, and wake up and go back and do it all over again the next day.
You’d have pretty long days?
They can be, they have been, we have had, did have long days. We had some days
that weren’t so long but generally we’d fly fairly steady all day, and I’d do an eight or nine hour day in the aeroplane. And basically, yeah, because you’re only operating as a small team, you’re not only flying the aeroplane, you’re also loading it and unloading it yourself, refuelling it yourself. You know, if you’re away from, away from your little home base, if you’re out at one of the remote airfields, then you gotta do the whole
lot yourself. So it can get quite tiring.
Did you have to move the mail around as well?
Mail, we were, we’ve moved a lot of mail, that was one of our major jobs was mail, and yeah, people were pretty pleased to see that. But there was mountains and mountains and mountains of mail, I’ve never seen so much mail in my life and yeah, people were always
pretty pleased to see their mail though.
And did you have much contact like from, with your family?
Did I have much contact? Not really. Oh initially I suppose you’d get a phone call a week, you know, you could get on one of the sat. phones, satellite telephones, and jump on and have a bit of a chat, but you’d only allowed sort of five minutes a week I think you’re allowed, five minutes every three days or four days or something. But there wasn’t much
to say anyway, cause again you couldn’t say very much cause there’s not much to tell. You know, “How’s life going at home?” and “Oh yeah, okay.” “How’s life going over there?” “Oh okay.” “What are you doing?” “Usual stuff, transporting stuff around the place, flying aeroplanes.”
You would’ve had all teenage children by then?
Yeah the youngest one was not quite a teenager, he would’ve been nine or ten, but yeah the other two were teenagers.
difficult, you were only over for two months or something like that the first time weren’t you?
Yeah two, a bit over two months.
What’s that like trying to maintain that fatherly role through a five minute chat on the phone every few days?
Yeah, that’s pretty tough. That was, and that was probably the, again, the most stressful time for Fiona, you know, adolescent children, you know, fifteen, sixteen year olds all trying to vie for her attention
and my attention at the same time. So that did get a little bit tough, that, the East Timor deployment was the one that she struggled the most with but she coped and I don't think the kids are adversely affected by my role in East Timor. I hope they’re not anyway. I guess we’ll find out in years to come.
So how many flights
could you get, you know, jammed into one day?
Depends on where you were going to and depending on how much gear you had to fly but, you know, you could log seven or eight hours flying time in the aeroplane in a normal working day. So, you know, you might be in the aeroplane for, you might physically be flying for twelve hours to log seven or eight hours
actual in the sky type time. And again, it just depended on where you went and what you were doing. Like we did a heap of shuttles, we took a heap of, they took the Korean Defence Force in to a place called Los Palos and that was, we did that at, we did it at night, we did it on night vision goggles.
Why did you do it in the night?
Cause that’s when they chose to go in, they wanted to go in, in the dark,
so they could, I don't know, be more covert I guess. Los Palos was one of those places that nobody really knew too much about, so we operated in there and we took ‘em in. I think the main reason was that they’d arrived at Baucau at, in the afternoon and by the time, they wanted to be in Los Palos that day, so I think they had no choice but for us to operate to get ‘em off
Baucau and into Los Palos we had to operate in there at night, so we did. And it all went pretty well, it worked pretty well. We blew a tyre and had to leave one of the aeroplanes on the ground there that night, so yeah that was a long day.
Step me through flying at night with your night vision goggles and all that kind of thing?
Its hard to describe. I guess you see it on TV [Television], you know, the green mist over everything and you only get the shadow, the contrast, that’s what its like. Its like flying with blinkers on and only that small field of view, and its all green. The goggles are good though, they, on a, you know, if you got a little bit of starlight or moonlight around, then you can define things quite well.
And they’re a hell of a lot easier than what, the way we used to operate. We used to operate in the pitch black with no aids at all, you know, we’d have to have you know, a few landing lights on the ground to be able to land but with goggles you can operate without any sort of ground aids at all. Although we liked to have a couple of infra red lights on the ground to be able to, just
to find thresholds and things. So they’re are big step from where we were, they make life a lot safer than what it was. But you can get yourself into a lot of trouble with them, if you don’t know what you’re doing. But the Caribou, we’ve developed, you know, really, really good procedures on how to use them, they’ve only, we’ve only been using them for probably the last eight or ten years I guess.
And there’s been a lot of development over that time of how we should go about doing it but I would much rather operate with a set of night vision goggles on my head than without ‘em.
And the, your role within INTERFET, why was that so short?
It was two months?
Oh we did aircrew rotations at two months. Why did we choose two months? I initially decided, cause
as I was the lead detachment commander, I picked two months as a time to go. Again because the operation in East Timor was so limited, it was basically just one element, there was very little stuff that we could do. We could only do a little bit of, little bit of just normal day
general flying, general landing on air strips that weren’t particularly challenging, nothing was particularly difficult over there. There was no navigation aids over there so we couldn’t do any instrument flying training. The operation, the night operations were very limited on what we would do, the conditions for aircrew over there were pretty austere in that, you know, we were in the field
in tents. When, even when we actually got into some buildings, you know, when we found some buildings that we could clean up and use, we were still, you know, very, very tight and very basic accommodation. And it was hot over there, and so fatigue became a real big problem, so we had this repetitiveness of fairly mundane tasking. We had pretty basic
living conditions and fatigue was becoming, would become a player. So I said, “Look, at two month’s time, at two months, the guys will be below their best, and I don’t want ‘em to be below their best. So take ‘em over for two months, send ‘em back, bring in some fresh guys and then we’ll re-rotate those guys again in a few months time.” And that meant that they could go home and they could catch up on all the things that they hadn’t
done, they hadn’t been doing while they were in East Timor. So they could catch up on their instrument flying training, instrument flying. They could catch up on their air drop capabilities and they could catch up on all their other, all the other, the myriad of other things that they weren’t doing while they were in East Timor. And I stuck by that and I stuck by two months. Even when UN took over and UN said, “No, you have to stay for three months.” I said, “Well we’re not going to stay for three months, we’ll stay for two months.”
And that met with a lot of resistance. I don't know I think I was right, I hope I was right. It meant that none of the aircrew, or very few of the aircrew got the... we all got the INTERFET medal, but virtually none of us got the UN medal for East Timor because we didn’t do ninety days. Although a lot of the guys did, you know, they did,
they did sixty days here and then they did another sixty days over here and then they did another sixty days here so they, you know, they might’ve done a hundred and eighty days but cause they hadn’t done ninety days continuous, the UN said, “No, you either do ninety days continuous or you don’t get the UN medal,” so most of the aircrew didn’t get it. And some of the guys were a bit peeved about that, they thought that they should have got it. And they thought that they should stay for ninety days and get it, and I dug me heels in and said, “No we’re not.”
“We’re not, it’ll be that last...” you could notice the decline, you notice the decline in the guys after about the six week mark, in that you know, they, they’d had enough of being there, their skills were starting to reduce. They were tired and they needed to go and they needed a break, so I said, “Eight weeks, that’s it.”
And you also did the two-month rotation as well?
I did, I did seventy-odd days with the UN, continue... seventy-three I think I did. So if I had’ve hung around for another seventeen days I would’ve got the UN medal but I said, “No I’m not staying.” That was a decision I made and that was it. And thankfully I had some people stand by me, some people at the top who stood by me and said, “Yeah, that’s the, that’s what he wants, that’s what we’ll do.” So that’s what we did.
So knowing that your two-month is coming up and you’re heading home and, what’s that like?
Yeah obviously everybody was pleased to get back home. Go back somewhere where you can get a decent meal and a decent shower and see your family again and yeah, get back to, sort of, normality. Didn’t have to carry a gun around, that was the, that was the greatest thing. Like when
you, when you got back home you were continually feeling for where your gun was, cause you had, everywhere you went you had to have it over in East Timor, you couldn’t leave it anywhere. So it was sort of like, it was like your handbag if you like, everywhere you went you were looking for your gun when you got back, but everybody was pretty pleased to get back. But the trouble with the Caribou world was because we’re such, we’re a fairly small outfit and as,
as time progressed, we initially went in with only two Caribous but we ended up over there with up to four and we had, you know, up to seven or eight aircrews in there at any one time. And that meant that guys would have to do a two-month rotation, go home for two months and then turn around and go back again. And, you know, some of the more junior guys, the,
that were there were going, ‘God, I’m gonna go back home, I’ll only be home for eight weeks, then I’ll have to come back again. And then I’ll go home and in another eight weeks time I’ll be back again.’ So some of them, towards the end, towards the end it got, it started to become a bit of a drag but again, that was the job, that’s what we were getting paid for. And that’s what we did, and we did it well.
So were you back just for two months before going
back again or...?
I was lucky, cause I was a squadron leader and we had two or three other squadron leaders who were capable of running the detachment, I did the first stint, got it set up, I came home and I had, I probably had the better part of six months I guess before I had to go back. But during that six months I was then still involved
in all the other things that had to be done, (a) for East Timor and, (b) to keep the training and that going for the guys that were back here. So yeah, I was lucky, I only did two stints of two months. Some of the guys did, you know, four or five, four or five rotations over there. Which, which yeah, did
start to play on them a little bit, I guess towards the end.
So do you think that system of the two-month rotation worked?
With that in mind?
Yeah it did. It, I mean I think I would, you know, some of the guys were saying, ‘Oh well I’d rather do four months straight up or six months straight up and get it out of the way.’ But from a safety perspective, I mean I really don’t, I wasn’t concerned about their, their social
life, if you like, the safety side of things concerned me, more than anything. I didn’t want fatigued guys over there trying to work and I didn’t, and same with the maintainers, I didn’t want the maintainers, I tried to fight for the maintainers to have short, shorter rotations too but I lost that argument, the maintainers had to do three month rotations I think.
But you would notice, you’d notice the decline in people trying to do what we did, you know. If you were, you know, depending on what your skills were, what your task was, you could perhaps have a longer period over there, but we’re expected to get in an aeroplane and fly it for a long period of time every day, you just simply can’t, you can’t
get the rest you need. Regardless of whether you’re tucked away in a decent bed or whether you’re in a tent, it still fatigues you after a certain amount of time. And the other problem was that your skills that you should have in the Caribou, in a Caribou, decline, because you’re not,
you’re not practising them every day, and you can’t practise them every day because there’s not the facilities in East Timor to do it. So you get where I’m coming, what I’m saying? So you’ve gotta get back to somewhere where you can practise those skills to still be a competent all round Caribou pilot, otherwise you become just a East Timorese transport pilot, and that’s not what we want. Cause the next time something comes up,
it might be in New Guinea or it might be in Irian Jaya again, or it might be, as it turned out to be in the Solomons, it could be anywhere in the world where we might need a different set of skills to those that we’ve got. And we have a preparedness directive that says we must maintain this many crews at this level of skill, and by leaving them in East Timor pretty more than two months, I couldn’t maintain that. So they either had to drop the directive
or allow me my two month rotations, and that’s what we did.
Okay. Can you tell me a bit about the transitional phase through over to the UN, of INTERFET?
Going from INTERFET to UN? That was quite interesting. Because UN is, UN is a huge, this huge organisation, and they do this
sort of thing all over the world with all different sorts of people, and they wanna control everything. So when the UN took over it became, it became a bureaucratic nightmare, in that everything that we were doing before, the UN now wanted
to reinvent. So you know, where we would, where we’d been operating quite happily into an airfield called Maliana, the UN wanted now to go and survey the airfield to make sure that it was safe for our operations. We said, “Look we’ve already surveyed it, we’ve been operating in there for all this period of time.” They said, “Well no, its got to meet our criteria.” So we went and of course it didn’t meet their criteria because their criteria
is civilian criteria and we’re a military aeroplane. So they wanted to try and control our military operations to accord with civilian operations, and the two don’t mix, don’t mix. So it took some convincing on our part to say, “Look, you just tell us what you want us to do and we’ll do it,” but they just couldn’t come to grips
with the fact that this military aeroplane... like they’re saying, I’m trying to explain to them that our aeroplane doesn’t even meet the civilian criteria for passenger carrying aircraft, its not a passenger carrying aircraft, its a military aeroplane, it carries military personnel, not civilian passengers, but they wanted us to cart civilian passengers in it. I said, “Well if you want us to cart civilian passengers then you’ll have to accept that its a military aircraft and it can’t operate under the,
the federal aviation laws.” So it took a bit of to-ing and fro-ing but we eventually got there. And they eventually gave up, the UN I think eventually gave up, just let ‘em operate, and we did, and we flew lots of people around, and we never had any trouble over there.
That seems completely illogical that they’d be making those demands?
You haven’t worked with the UN have you? Yes the UN does make some very strange demands. They have people who are, who their whole, sole job in life is to do that particular job. You know, the inspecting of the aeroplanes was a classic, this guy had come over, and his whole role was to inspect our aeroplanes to make sure that they, that
they were safe for people to fly in. So he came over and he inspected the aeroplane and he said, “Oh, you haven’t got any, you haven’t got passenger cards,” you know, like you get in your 747. You know, ‘In case of emergency, here’s your emergency exits and your life jackets under your seat,’ and all that sort of stuff. “Well we don’t have that, cause we’re a military aeroplane, we do a military induction into people that get on it.” They get told, you know, we don’t have time for them to come running in out of the bush,
jump on the aeroplane and for us to stand there and go, ‘The emergency exists are over here and behind you.’ You know, ‘Get in, sit down, put your seat belt on and we’re going. The engines are running, the engines are running and we’re out of here.’ So we had to do some induction training and we made up some passenger cards which basically got stuck on the aeroplane and nobody ever read, just basically to please them. They ticked off a couple of boxes,
they met their bureaucratic requirements and they were happy, and we went on and did our job.
We’ll have to pause there.
Interviewee: Warren Schmitt Archive ID 2402 Tape 07
Warren, I just had a couple of questions about INTERFET first, and that’s, when you arrived there was the Indonesian military there already. What observations did you make of the atmosphere around them or...?
They, they were a funny bunch. They obviously wanted to have photos taken, a bit of intelligence gathering as well, take photos of the crew, get the names of the crews as we came off. Because
we, they were still fairly, they were active on the airfield at the time. And as time went on and they withdrew and less and less of them were there, yeah, we’re sitting over our side of the road, you know, in tents with guns and not having much fun. And they were on the other side of the road having
parties and drinking grog and God knows what else, over the other side of the road, you know, having a good time. And that was, that was a little bit of a worry you know, that perhaps they were, you know, they’d get a bit out of control. But as it turned out there was no problem, they all packed up and flew out and shipped off.
So you’re a bit worried about that, did you feel the tension in the air between...?
Yeah, there was a bit of tension there.
Yeah, nothing outward but you could feel that obviously they weren’t happy, they weren’t happy to be being basically kicked out, so.
A bit like the tail between the legs kind of thing?
Oh yeah, I don't know whether it was so much that but, you know I, there’s, from what I gather there was a fairly rogue element
that, of militia that did the damage in the place. And I think a lot of people sort of tarred the military and the Indonesian police all with the same brush, saying that it was them that caused the doing, that did it, that the Indonesian military were behind the militia. And whether that was true or not I’m not a hundred percent sure and I’m probably not the most qualified person to speak of it. But,
but I think a lot of those guys would feel fairly wrongly accused if they had nothing to do with it and they were being told, ‘Get out, get out of the country, the East Timorese don’t want you here anymore and look what you’ve done to the place, so nick off.’ So, yeah.
Well with the militia, you said you were transporting some prisoners. Were they, what, were they tied up or anything of this order?
Yeah, hand cuffed generally.
Hand cuffed or zip tied and put on the plane. Escorted usually with two service police people.
Being up in the pilot’s seat, what do you know about what’s going on behind you in that kind of situation, in your plane?
We obviously have faith in our people to, you know, that the militia are escorted by
service police people, so they’re not going anywhere. And I also, down the back of the aircraft I have a flight engineer as well, who’s my eyes and ears in the back, so he, and he keeps me informed of what’s going on. So yeah, we weren’t too concerned.
We there any unusual events which went on in your plane during that time?
None that I can recall specifically. No, nothing specific
that I can recall.
What about when you were transporting some of the sick kids or anything, was there medical care going on in the back of the plane?
If, depending on how sick they were, if they were sick they were supposed to be escorted by medical type people the whole time. Sometimes that wasn’t the case. And if they couldn’t speak English then they were also supposed to have an interpreter with them but
sometimes that didn’t happen either. So a bit of hand signals and talking was the way to go to try and get your message across, but generally we got the message across okay to them. But yeah.
Well okay, you were talking about the UN operation and how you’re now here again after six months. What did your wife think about you having to go
She knew the time had come and I’d have to go again. And as I said, I was one of the lucky ones in that I didn’t have to go quite as regularly as some of the more junior guys. I mean the junior guys were the ones that really copped, they, the junior co-pilots in particular. They were doing, you know, a tour, come back, go back, tour, go back, so they were really starting to feel the pinch
towards the end. But yeah she knew I’d have to go back, and when the time came I did.
You were talking about the added bureaucracy that occurred. What else could you compare in contrast to six months before?
Oh things’d improved a hell of a lot from when we first walked into the place. You know, in that time from when I’d left to when I got back there’s been
a hell of a lot of rebuilding going on. The place was pretty secure now, the militia had been pretty much cleaned up. We had proper facilities, you know, we had a proper mess where we could eat, you know, cooking, cooked fresh food and what have you. Whereas you know, prior to that we’d been pretty much on ration packs
in the first tour, and you know, some prepared meals, you know, after the first few weeks, but ration packs for the first few weeks. So the, and then the, and we also had, instead of being in tents, we’d actually had some demountable huts that we could live in and proper showers. Proper showers and all that sort of stuff, so second time around it was a hell of a lot easier,
living-wise. But still the same problems, you know, with the flying, sort of things and the tasking became even more repetitive and more mundane than what it was under INTERFET. Under INTERFET we had a more military role to play and the tasking was a little bit more varied, whereas once we started operating with UN we became very much a regular bus service, so, you know, we would do the same
flight every day. Take off, go to Maliana, go to Suai, come back, go through, down, and come back to the thing, and you’d do that every , you’d do that twice a day. And then on other days you’d do the northern runs and on another day you’d do the southern run. So it became very, very repetitive, and very mundane, and that became even worse for the guys for
maintaining their skills and maintaining their interest. So, and there just wasn’t anywhere else that we could do anything over there, so again we stuck with the short rotations to keep the guys up to speed. Things under the UN became a lot different than they were with INTERFET as well in that, you know, under INTERFET,
my boss was a military guy, my, and my direct guy, the guy who was controlling the air force component was a transport pilot himself. So I could go to him and say, ‘This is what I propose to do and this is how I propose to do it,’ and he would say, ‘Yep that sounds good, go ahead and do that,’ or, ‘No, I think you should change your operation and do it this way.’ And he would accept that for what it was and he would then take it to
the INTERFET commander and say, “This is how my boys are gonna operate.” So having, you know, the air component commander there was a good thing. Under the UN, when things changed, our air component commander wasn’t necessarily a military guy, our detachment, our component commander wasn’t necessarily an air force guy, so he didn’t often understand the nuances of Caribou operations. So it took a lot more
explaining and convincing that, ‘This is how we operate, this is how we do it.’ And you’d have to tell ‘em time, and time, and time, and time, and time again, until it got through to the, to the sort of level that you needed people to understand. But although they had an air cell there, that they supposedly thought they knew what they were doing, their air cell unfortunately wasn’t as focused as perhaps our
military cell was when it was under INTERFET.
So were these kind of occasions and these kind of circumstances, did they cause you frustration?
Yeah, sometimes they caused me extreme frustration. But you’d go in there, you’d bang your head against a wall a few times and explain and eventually get the message through.
Did it ever amount to any kind of arguments or tension of
Not really, not really in that I had a direct link, under UN, I had a direct link back to our air force head quarters. So I could call, I could call back to my commander back in Australia and say, “Can you please ring up this guy in the UN and tell him that
we’re not doing that, because he won’t listen to me.” They’re very, the UN is probably more heavily structured than the defence forces in that if you’re at this level and you’re dealing with me who’s down at this level, at operational level, he, I can’t tell him anything, he tells me what to do and he expects me to do it. And if its the wrong thing, and it just doesn’t work, so I take it up through my chain of command then it goes across through their chain of command, and eventually the message gets through. But it,
at times we had to use the home link back to try and get things done.
That’s quite hierarchial.
Yeah so, what did you think about the UN as people, like generally, like?
Didn’t have a great lot to do with them really. A lot of ‘em, there’s, I don't know,
I mean they all obviously have their, they all have their hearts in the right place I guess, but sometimes their execution lacks a bit of direction. And oh, I don't know, they just, they frustrated me in that a lot of the times, a lot of the times where you could see something was not being done the way it should be done, that they would continue to do it anyway,
and because that’s the way they, that’s the UN way of doing it. And you’d say, “Well that’s a stupid way of doing it.” And they’d say, “Well sorry, that’s the way we do it.”
Was some of this driven by maybe arrogance in any of it?
I don't know whether its arrogance or whether its just their operating procedures, and they’re so stuck in their ways that they won’t change them. Yeah, a classic example was they asked me to supply all my
pilot’s experience levels, how many hours they had, what level of captaincy they were and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all that information is classified. And I said, “There’s no reason for you to know that, you don’t need to know that, so I’m not going to tell ya.” And they said, “Well in that case then, you can’t fly.” I said, “Well
I’m still not gonna tell ya.” Anyway I eventually took it back through my chain of command and said, “Should I tell these guys this or not?” And they said, “No, don’t tell ‘em.” I said, “Well you tell ‘em that I’m not gonna tell ‘em.” But they just kept sending out this form, every day, they’d send out this form, ‘Please fill out this form,’ and I’d send it back with a big ‘NO’ written on it. And
eventually I think they kept bleating and whinging and whinging and whinging and whinging until air force office said, “Look give ‘em, give ‘em some information, just give ‘em the real, real, basics.” So we gave ‘em some real basics and they were happy then, and they went away. But, you know, if you don’t fill out this piece of paper, this form, then... and that was it. And just the strange ways they do things, you know, like,
like, they, they wanted to, they wanted, obviously cause they were paying for our flying hours, so somewhere, someone had to pay the bill. So we’d been operating over there under UN for how ever many weeks and all of a sudden they come out and they say, “We need one of these forms filled out for every mission that you’ve done.” And the information on it was just bizarre, stuff that we don’t track,
stuff that we don’t normally track like, ‘What time did you start the engines? What time did you shut down the engines? What time did you taxi?’ And that’s stuff we don’t record, so we weren’t able to give ‘em some of the stuff they wanted. Then they wanted us to go back weeks and weeks, there was a mountain of paper work this high. And I said, “We can’t do that, we don’t have that information.” They said, “Oh you’ll have to otherwise we’re not paying.”
So one of my poor junior co-pilots got the job of going back and recording all the, pulling out all the documents and getting all the flight details down. And, you know, if they had’ve told us at the start that’s what they wanted, then we would’ve been alright, but half way through they... “Oh by the way, we need this for the last six weeks.” “Oh yeah, okay, good-oh.”
Were there any nationalities from the
UN contingent that you got along with that, in particular, particularly impressed you?
The Kiwis were always good. Kiwis, I mean the Kiwis work with the UN all the time. Any time there’s anything that’s, that’s going on around the place, you’ll always know the Kiwis are gonna be there. Fiji was, they were good.
The other nationalities that got called in, as in military you’re talking? The Philippines, the Filipinos had a really good relationship over there with their people, with their sector, and they were very relaxed about it. They went in and they, I don't even think they went in fully armed, they just went in and said, “We’re coming in, we’re gonna help youse out,” so they had a really good relationship with the people they were working with. The Koreans were pretty gung ho,
they, they had a big fanfare when they sort of, they got off the aeroplane at Los Palos with their flags flying and running out the back and carrying on. You know, all the military contingents were pretty good. There’s a couple that I wouldn’t say were too good but....
Who were they?
Don’t know, don’t know whether I should tell you
or not. The Jordanians were a pretty strange bunch. They, we took, they ended up down at the enclave down at Oecussi. They were probably the only ones that were a little bit different.
And what about at local level, what did you notice had really changed. You said development, but just give us examples of what you’re seeing in the East
In their infrastructure?
Just their life, their living, everything?
You, like where the houses had been burned and knocked down, you could obviously see that they’d started to repair them and move back in to their houses. Supermarkets and shopping centres, not supermarkets and shopping centres as we know them but, you know, market places and a few little corner restaurants and things like that,
they started to open up again and people were going about their businesses again and, you know, there was just, people started to come back out of the wood work. When we first went in to the place, there was eerie silence, there was sort of not many locals around, hardly anybody there. The next time back you know, the place was a busy thriving little sort of place again
in Dili. And same with Suai, when we went down to Suai there was nobody virtually down there, mainly because the whole place’d been flattened, it was just a black, flattened mess, but as time went on that sort of improved.
That must’ve been, felt good to have been a part of that process?
Yeah, yeah it was.
To have had some input into their, into the rebuilding of their country, yeah, it was good. I’d like to go back now and see how much further its developed, and maybe one day I will, but we’ll have to wait and see.
You mentioned it was a lot more boring as far as flights. So what was like a typical day now with the UN there, for you?
With the UN? Oh
it was very much a milk run, get up in the morning and you’d fly sort of nine o'clock, nine o'clock out, ten o'clock you land at Maliana and take off again before quarter past ten because everybody expects you to take off, fly down and land at Suai, and you get there at whatever time and you have to wait on the ground for an hour and then you go. So it became
very much like flying for a regional airliner, not the sort of work that we normally do. We’d also originally, when we went over there in the first place where our operations were such that we weren’t entirely sure whether anyone was gonna take a shot at us, so we would either operate at very high level,
out of small arms fire or at very low level to reduce the chance of us, of them getting a shot away at us. And as the, (a) the threat diminished and, (b) the fact that we were now operating under UN and their rules, all the low level stuff went out the window, we weren’t allowed to operate low level anymore, even though sometimes we had to through stress of weather.
So it became very mundane, it was very, very... it was a milk run.
Is boredom a real factor that you have to fight against, you know not, for your men as well?
Very much so, very much so. Boredom, (a) leads to fatigue and it leads to repetitive, the possibility for a repetitive error. So
because you are no longer operating at a level where you’ve got to really think hard about it, and concentrate hard, you can tend to sort of go into just remote mode, and you don’t think about it, and that’s when mistakes can tend to creep in. So we used to try and, I used to try and mix it up for the guys a bit and give ‘em, you know, something a bit unusual to do. Take a different route, take a different
height, mix the co-pilots up, make ‘em do a, some sort of a different approach when they got to the other end or whatever, just to try and break up the day. But boredom became a big problem with the UN.
And flying, what about in your off time, like were you trying to have some fun or social activities?
Yeah, we had,
we had the opportunity, as the time progressed, where we were allowed to have a beer, two drinks per day you’re allowed. And we also, and that became a good social point, guys would, you know, meet at the bar, we had our own bar at our area, have their two beers, have a bit of a chat, maybe watch some TV, watch a video or whatever we
were watching. And we had a, we set up a volleyball comp., and that was good, we had a beach volleyball comp. and that ran basically every night of the week, there’d be a game of beach volleyball on and people’d sit around and watch ‘em, and that sort of helped pass the time in. Guys went running, guys went, we went to the beach. We started to do a bit of touring around, go and have a look at some of the local sights and,
and stuff like that, once the security situation was such that we were able to. And as time progressed we allowed guys to go into town to the restaurants, we allowed them to go into the markets once the markets became sort of stable enough for people to go into. So things sort of freed up and guys found on their sort of, free time, they did have, they did have
stuff to do. But, you know, I read a lot of books while I was over there. I spent a lot of time in the operations room, we watched videos. We, you know we set up our own video library, one of the local, the local video shops here was kind enough to box up some videos and send ‘em over to us and we’d send ‘em back and they’d send back new ones,
and that was all good.
Were you able to contact home yourself a lot?
Yeah after a short period of time, and it didn’t take very long at all actually, even under INTERFET. Telecom or Telstra, or one of the telcos [Telecommunications companies] anyway, obviously saw a bright opportunity to make some money and put a mobile telephone station over in East Timor. And so of course everybody had a mobile telephone and
once the network was up and running, you could pretty much call home anytime you felt like it, on your mobile. So that became, that became more of a distraction at times than a good thing, in that any time anybody had a problem at home they didn’t... like even the minor-est thing that would happen at home which
normally if you couldn’t ring your partner in, who was in East Timor, you’d deal with it yourself and get over it. Whereas we found with a lot of my guys, they were getting phone calls, you know, that, ‘Jimmy’s fallen off his bike and hurt his knee.’ And thinkin’, ‘Oh gee, oh my son’s fallen off his bike,’ you know, ‘I gotta go home.’ ‘Well, no,’ you know, ‘your wife can deal with that.’ And
so it did become a bit of a distraction in that they knew everything that was going on at home. Which was good, it was good in some ways and it was bad in others, you know what I mean. So you just had, we just had to be a little bit careful there and a lot of things were getting to people that they really didn’t need to know about. And we had a few marriage breakdowns and stuff like that where I had to get guys back home and,
and deal with their home life and stuff like that. I only had a few of those that I had to sort out.
That sounds like a big part of your role is of course the management of people?
That’s what sort of detachment commanding and commanding a group is all about, you gotta look after your people and make sure that their needs are met. But in doing so, you also have to make sure that the needs of the
establishment you’re working for are met as well, and that can be a bit of a juggling act at times. No good having people who aren’t happy trying to do the job for you.
And are you flying as well during this time?
I tended not to fly. In the early days of INTERFET, I didn’t have a great choice because we were so light on the ground for people, that I was one of the on-line captains so that I would fly as
much as anybody else. The second time round, where the tasking was pretty mundane and it was pretty basic sort of stuff, I probably flew about half as much as the on-line captains flew. So that was the only, that was a decision I made to keep them focused, to keep him interested. So well, ‘You’re over here, you got a job to do, you can take as many flying hours as you can
fit, I’ll fly with you occasionally to keep an eye on what’s going on.’ So I was probably flying you know, thirty-five, forty hours a month, whereas they’re flying seventy or eighty hours a month. And that was, that was the way I liked it, they could take the lion’s share of the flying and I could get on with the man management side. Because the establishment grew, it grew from three aircrews... so six...
it grew from an establishment of about twelve people when we first went in up to, at the end, I think we about, oh about fifty or sixty people, in just our Caribou operations, at the end of the operation. So it turned into quite a big machine to try and manage. It was, and it was, you know, almost a small squadron, rather that a
detachment, towards the end.
Alright, just quickly check the... Okay. Alright well tell us about... is there anything more that you wanna talk about?
No, not really.
That we haven’t mentioned? Okay. Well tell us about returning to Australia and the next phase?
Next phase, coming back.
I think I said before that I had been planning on resigning. East Timor, East Timor came along and kept me in for a bit longer. I probably would’ve resigned around about when East Timor was on except when East Timor came up and I thought, ‘Well I’ve been in the air force for all this time, and they’ve been paying
me to go and defend people, now that something’s actually come up, perhaps I should go and do that for a while.’ So East Timor kept me in for at least that period of time. And I came back and we had to start getting on with catching up with all the... oh, we were still miles behind in our operational capability of where we should have been. So we went back to rebuilding all of that, getting
people back up to speed on goggles and air drops and New Guinea training and all that sort of stuff. So I was sort of back into the running of that side of things, back into getting people converted onto type and all that sort of stuff. There was a few other, a few other things that came up during that sort of time,
but it was pretty much just business as usual during that... but then, you know, the writing was on the wall that I would be posted and that not too far down the track I’d be promoted, and that basically spelled the end of my flying career anyway. So if I was lucky I may have got another flying
tour as a CO of one of the squadrons, but I’d have to probably do three or four years in a ground job, somewhere in some very cold location like Canberra or Sydney before that would happen, and that didn’t really appeal to me very much. And I guess the frequency of what I’d been doing, you know, with New Guinea and then Irian Jaya
and East Timor and all the other things, had sort of caught up with me I think, and I decided I’d just had enough, I just wanted a break. So I’d made the decision to leave and as I said, I would’ve resigned other than that, when I had an aircraft accident, which was just one of those unfortunate
things. And I decided that I’d stay for another twelve months, just to make sure that the message wasn’t going the wrong way to people. So I stayed for another twelve months and that was enough, I’d had enough, I didn’t feel that I wanted to stay in any more. And
whilst I’ve missed some things, I guess, there are... you know, you miss some of the mate-ships that form, and you miss, I miss the challenges that I used to get. And I used to quite like operating in New Guinea and I used to like, you know, running detachments and managing people and doing all that, I used to quite enjoy that, so I missed that a little bit. But I don’t miss a lot of the other things that I had to put up with,
and I’ve still got enough to keep me busy managing my business, for that decision to leave I haven’t regretted. Sometimes I think I’d like to get in a Caribou and go flying again and then I think of all the stuff I had to actually do and put up with to get in that aeroplane and go flying in it, and I don’t miss that.
So you know, there comes a time, I think, in everybody’s life when they think, ‘I’ve had enough of doing that, I feel like a change,’ and that time had come, and that was my decision.
And here we are today. Well, I’ll just ask one or two general questions and that’s just about your whole service time. What did you think, kind of qualities did it teach you as a person?
Qualities of a person? I guess I probably had some of those qualities already I guess, it probably bought them out more in me I guess. But integrity and honesty and loyalty, those are probably three of the key ingredients that I think I have got and they’re the sort of things that I like to try and instil in my own people.
Do your best, try your hardest and if I can get an honest effort out of my people and they’re doing their best work, then that’s all I ask for, and that’s all I want. So that, that’s something that I got. I think, as my time progressed in the air force and I had more, and I had a pretty broad spectrum of jobs
and a pretty wide range of experiences, I think I learned that everybody has a different, everybody has different capabilities and everybody has something to offer, and as a manager and as a leader its your job to find out what those qualities and capabilities are and get that out of your people.
And make sure that they’re, that they are focused to do the job that you’re asking of them and hopefully that they want to do the job for you. And that’s, and that to me is leadership. If you can get that out of people then I think you’re a good leader.
And over that period, just briefly, what kind of things had changed in the air force over your time?
The air force has changed a lot to what it used to be. It used to be, it used to be a lot more relaxed. I think, I think not necessarily for better or worse, the air force has become far more specialised than it used to be, and its become far more professional I think, than it used to be. That’s taken away a few of the
good, fun things that used to go on, probably taken away a little bit of the mateship and camaraderie that used to develop through those sorts of activities, you know, that we used to do. And when I first joined the air force, every Wednesday afternoon the whole base would stop working and go and play sport, you know, every week, and that doesn’t happen anymore. You know, if you, and but you’re still expected to maintain a level of fitness, but its up
to you to do it in your own time. Whereas before the air force used to say, ‘Well,’ you know, ‘we’ll all knock off, we’ll all go and play golf, or...’ And that, we still try and do that, well used to try and do it when I was here but you just don’t have time anymore to do it. Everybody is so busy now because we’ve limited, we’ve cut the numbers down, there’s no fat left in the air force anymore, and there’s no, I don't think there’s any fat left in the defence forces anymore. So
I think that that’s a change and I don't know that its necessarily for better or worse, there are obviously elements of it which are better. There’s no more long lunches, you know, that used to go on. I remember when I was a troop, you know, the sergeants would knock off for lunch and they’d go up to the sergeants mess and they might not come back, you know, that’d be the, that’d be the last you’d see of them for the day. And I think that was a bad thing, I don't think that was a good thing at all.
But its nice to still be able to do that occasionally. And it, I think we’re getting less and less of that, available to us. Good things that’ve changed though? Far more focused on operations, we now have defined, defined our roles.
People who join the defence forces these days... when I joined the defence force, I really didn’t think about deploying overseas or having to go and carry a gun and possibly having to use it. Whereas now I think because we have been involved recently in so many things, you know, East Timor and, you know, Afghanistan and Mogadishu and the whole gamut of...
obviously in Iraq and the Solomons, that people now, if you join the defence force now you can expect that you’re gonna get called on to do one of those, to do one of those roles. Whereas when I joined up nobody, nobody every thought about it, you know, nobody ever thought, nobody ever thought that we would go into East Timor and possibly stand to have a full out stoush with,
with Indonesia. You know, we were always told, ‘Oh look there’s ten year threat, there’s ten, there’s always, you have ten years of lead time before there’d be a war,’ and that’s not true. Its, the pace of operations have changed, there can be a war in a minute.
I think we’re just about at the end so, yeah, so I’ve gotta stop there but thank you very much for today.
No worries, okay, thank you.